Sweden’s unearmarked core support to UNHCR saves refugees’ lives

Sweden is one of UNHCR’s most important donors and the largest donor of unearmarked funds which UNHCR can use where the needs are the greatest. Sweden donates its unearmarked support as a core contribution at the beginning of each year and in 2016 Sweden has increased its unearmarked support to a record high SEK 815 million which has saved lives and created durable solutions for many people forced to flee.

© Fata Modu poses with her grandchild at the Fufore communal camp in Nigeria’s Adamawa State. She was among some 2.2 million Nigerians who fled their homes during a campaign by Boko Haram militants to eradicate western education influence. © UNHCR/George Osodi May 2016.

In 2016 the global displacement crisis worsened due to war and conflict leading to several new emergencies. Around 65 million people are forcibly displaced, about half of them are children. At the same time the gap between the enormous humanitarian needs and UNHCR’s resources is widening and international support is more important than ever.

Unearmarked funding saves lives

UNHCR is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, mainly from governments, and unearmarked core support is crucial in enabling UNHCR to save lives and alleviate suffering. Unearmarked core support is money that is not earmarked for any specific purpose, thereby creating the necessary predictability and flexibility needed to allow UNHCR to plan, budget and implement operations in a timely and efficient manner, and to quickly respond to emergencies. This not only saves lives and assists displaced people with critical basic needs, it also helps to rebuild the lives of people forced to flee.

Unearmarked contributions can also be used several times during the year. When an appeal is launched and earmarked funding begins to arrive, unearmarked funding can then be redistributed and used in another emergency. This allows UNHCR to use the money over and over again during the year in several ongoing refugee crises, thereby reaching many more people than earmarked funds would do. Unearmarked contributions are also of vital importance to support so-called “forgotten” or “unpopular” refugee crises, crises that are neglected and critically underfunded since they attract little or no attention.

“With multiple ongoing emergencies globally, unearmarked funding is crucial for UNHCR to be able to save and rebuild lives. Sweden is UNHCR’s largest donor of unearmarked support which is not only of vital importance to many people forced to flee, it also shows Sweden’s and the Swedish people’s solidarity with the most vulnerable people displaced worldwide” says Pia Prytz Phiri, UNHCR Regional Representative for Northern Europe.

Sweden’s unearmarked support makes a difference

In 2016, UNHCR has with Sweden’s unearmarked core support been able to immediately respond to several new acute emergencies due to violence and conflict in South Sudan, Burundi, Mozambique, Iraq, Central African Republic and Nigeria. In South Sudan and neighbouring countries, UNHCR has been able to save the lives of many malnourished and women and children in urgent need of medical care. Later in the year, UNHCR has been able to tap into the same core support in Nigeria to help extremely malnourished children there as well.

UNHCR has also been able to use Swedish unearmarked support to several critically underfunded crises such as Yemen and the Central African Republic. In Yemen where 2.5 million people are internally displaced, UNHCR has with Sweden’s support coordinated emergency relief, such as water, food, housing, and medical care. Due to the brutal conflict in the Central African Republic, UNHCR has been able to help severely traumatized refugees, including women and girls who are victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Sweden’s support has also contributed to sustainable solutions in protracted refugee situations. Somali refugee children have for instance been able to go to school in Kenya and Ethiopia, and displaced Afghans have been able to build a new future by returning home or integrating locally in Pakistan and Iran being provided with cash grants and income-generating projects.

Sweden – a leading international humanitarian actor

Sweden is one of UNHCR’s main donors, and so far in 2016 Sweden has contributed with SEK 1.12 billion (USD 131 million) of which 75 % is unearmarked. In 2015, Sweden was UNHCR’s fifth largest donor with SEK 836.2 million (USD 110.5 million) in contribution. In 2015 Sweden participated in a UN High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing to find solutions to the growing gap between humanitarian needs and available resources, which concluded that unearmarked support is critical for the humanitarian system to function.

UNHCR’s annual budget has more than doubled over the past five years, reaching USD 7.5 billion in 2016, the largest budget ever. UNHCR has only received about 50 % of its budgetary needs (USD 3.7 billion) of which 15% are unearmarked funds which has resulted in that many displaced people have not received the help they so desperately need. UNHCR has many times only been able to provide a minimum of protection and life-saving assistance, but has not been able to provide the necessary means for refugees to create meaningful lives and become self-reliant.