Refugees Magazine Issue 102 (The high cost of caring) - How UNHCR is funded

Since its budget topped $1 billion in 1992, UNHCR has had to work hard to ensure that the world's refugees receive the help they need.

Since its budget topped $1 billion in 1992, UNHCR has had to work hard to ensure that the world's refugees receive the help they need.

UNHCR is almost entirely funded by direct, voluntary contributions from governments, non-governmental organizations and individuals. There is also a very limited subsidy from the regular budget of the United Nations, which is used exclusively for administrative costs.

UNHCR's budget topped $1 billion for the first time in 1992. It has exceeded that mark every year since, primarily because of major refugee emergencies in former Yugoslavia, the Great Lakes region of Africa and elsewhere.

The 1995 budget was $1.3 billion.

Total contributions to UNHCR in 1994 were $1.069 billion, including $36 million in in-kind donations. In-kind contributions can range from wheat flour and cooking oil to the provision of airlift planes to children's shoes.

Since 1977, UNHCR's budget has been divided into two parts:

  • General Programmes, which are basic, ongoing refugee protection and assistance activities that are planned and approved in advance. General Programmes are statutory activities and are divided, for the most part, by country and continent. In 1995, the General Programmes budget target was $428.7 million. As of 5 December, a total of $385.2 million was available for expenditure. Funding for general programmes often is announced by governments at annual pledging conferences.
  • Special Programmes are made up of refugee emergencies, voluntary repatriations and programmes for non-refugees. The Special Programmes funding target for 1995 was $863.9 million. As of 20 November, $501.6 million had been contributed. Funds for each Special Programme are usually sought through the issuance of appeals, which can be launched, revised and updated as required. Each special programme has its own distinct trust fund. In former Yugoslavia and other large programmes, appeals for funds are often coordinated with other U.N. agencies active in the region and have been issued to cover periods ranging in duration from a few months to a year.

Over the past five years, donors have kept pace with UNHCR's increased requirements. About 95 percent of the agency's funding comes from just 15 governments, prompting UNHCR in recent years to seek expansion of its donor base.

UNHCR has more than 5,300 staff, about 80 percent of them in the field. Each year, its more than 250 offices in 118 countries channel at least $300 million through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for the implementation of humanitarian programmes benefiting refugees and others of concern throughout the world. In all, UNHCR works with some 500 NGOs worldwide.

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 102 (1995)