‘Leaving no one behind’: Norway’s unearmarked core support to the UNHCR saves refugees

In 2016, Norway became the largest donor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) per capita, the seventh largest donor country to UNHCR in total and the fourth largest donor of unearmarked support.

Yemen. UNHCR aid convoys reach Mokha. Thousands of displaced Yemenis from villages in the district of Mokha receive mattresses, sleeping mats, blankets, kitchen sets and wash buckets at a UNHCR distribution point.© UNHCR / Adem Shaqiri

UNHCR is funded by voluntary contributions, most of which come from donors such as Norway. UNHCR is dependent on receiving early, predictable and financial donations in an increasingly unstable world, where 65.3 million people are forcibly displaced. The gap between humanitarian needs and available resources to alleviate acute suffering, assist with protection and invest in lasting solutions continues to grow. Unlike earmarked contributions limited to specific operations and crises; unearmarked, softly earmarked or thematically earmarked contributions may be used where UNHCR considers the needs to be most acute.

Norway helps the most vulnerable and neglected

Norway is listed among the top ten contributors to UNHCR, and is one of UNHCR’s most important strategic partners. In 2016, Norway increased its financial support to UNHCR significantly from NOK 640 million in 2015 to NOK 1 billion, an impressive growth of 56 percent. An additional amount of NOK 50 million was also added to the annual unearmarked core support, which traditionally has been NOK 300 million. Norway’s generous core support, allocated to UNHCR at the beginning of each year, is crucial for the Agency to provide uninterrupted protection and relief to people who are forced to flee.

In 2009, UNHCR introduced a needs-based budget that encompasses the total picture of refugees’ needs globally. This needs-based budget contrasts the previous approach to budgeting, where UNHCR presented a budget on expected financial support from the donor countries.

Over the past five years, UNHCR’s budget has doubled, and in 2017 it is estimated at USD 7,309 billion. The dramatic increase is explained by the increase in the number of global crises, as well as UNHCR’s new approach to budgeting.

With the new UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda, states, including Norway, commit themselves to leaving no one behind in their efforts towards eradicating poverty, fighting inequality and stopping climate change by 2030. The Declaration of the 17 new sustainable development goals (SDGs) includes refugees and internally displaced persons in development work.

As a response to increasing instability, crises and conflicts, the international community gathered in Istanbul in May 2016 at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) under the leadership of the UN. At the WHS, donors and aid organizations committed themselves to more effectively address the needs of people in crises through an agreement called the ‘Grand Bargain’. The agreement includes promises to reduce earmarked contributions and instead assist with more flexible financing.

In September 2016, the UN General Assembly held a summit to Address Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants. At the Summit, all 193 UN Member States unanimously adopted the New York Declaration. The New York Declaration is politically binding and confirms countries’ obligations to respect the rights of refugees and migrants. The Declaration reaffirms the importance of the international refugee protection regime; highlights the need to fully respect the rights of refugees; pledges to provide more predictable and sustainable support to refugees and the communities that host them; and, agrees to expand opportunities to achieve durable solutions for refugees.

In the course of the last decade, at least 15 conflicts have started or reignited. 2017 marked the year when the Syrian war entered its seventh year. Yemen faces the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster, where UNHCR has to date only received enough funds to cover 12 percent of the immediate needs. At the same time, millions of people are forced to leave everything behind searching for peace and security as a result of crises and famine in Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin, the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan.

Unearmarked assistance provides predictability and flexibility in an era characterized by massively underfinanced humanitarian operations. The Norwegian core support of NOK 350 million allows UNHCR to plan long term and to quickly allocate resources for situations with acute needs. Crises that do not receive sufficient media coverage, so-called ‘unpopular’ or ‘forgotten crises’ are especially dependent on unearmarked or softly earmarked assistance. In 2016, UNHCR, with Norway’s core support, was able to immediately allocate money to respond to refugee crises in South Sudan, Burundi, Mozambique, Iraq, the Central African Republic and Nigeria.

In addition, unearmarked contributions can be used multiple times throughout the year. When a new emergency appeal is presented and earmarked contributions begin to arrive, the unearmarked assistance that initially funded the operation can be reallocated and reused in another refugee crisis. In this way, UNHCR can use the unearmarked funds several times for different crises, thus reaching a lot more people than what earmarked assistance in principle does.

“Of the total amount granted by the Norwegian state in foreign aid to UNHCR in 2016, each Norwegian gave approx. NOK 210 to UNHCR. About 35-40 per cent of Norway’s assistance to UNHCR is unearmarked, while the rest falls under the category of softly earmarked contributions. In line with commitments made to the Grand Bargain and the New York Declaration, we see Norway positioning itself as one of UNHCR’s leading donors, and as an example for other countries to follow,” says Pia Prytz Phiri, Regional Representative for UNHCR Northern Europe.

Thematic Earmarking: Education

In countries and regions characterized by refugee crises, education is crucial. Access to education can foster social cohesion, provide access to life-saving information, address psychosocial needs, and offer a stable and safe environment for those who need it most. It also helps people to rebuild their communities and pursue productive and meaningful lives.

Norway is a contributor to UNHCR’s education strategy and is thematically earmarking contributions to education in crises and conflicts, focusing on refugees, girls, and vulnerable children. In 2015 and 2016, Norway spent a total of NOK 35 million to support educational opportunities under the auspices of UNHCR, partner organizations and governments. Through thematic contributions earmarked for primary education, Norway is investing in durable solutions for both protracted and acute situations.

With the help of the Norwegian donations to UNHCR, Syrian refugee children in Lebanon have been granted the opportunity to go to school and realize their dreams.