Beyond Afghanistan: Humanitarian aid to refugees worldwide faces $126 million funding crisis

from US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Published on 29 Nov 2001
The international community is responding with laudably generous financial contributions to assist refugees from Afghanistan, but refugee relief programs in most other regions of the world are begging for adequate financial support in the final weeks of 2001, particularly in Africa.
Funding channeled through the UN refugee agency during 2001 for worldwide refugee assistance and protection currently faces a $126 million shortfall for the world's 14 million refugees as well as 2 million former refugees who have only recently returned home. The pervasive refugee funding crisis stands in stark contrast to the generous outpouring of donations for Afghan refugees, who have received primary attention from donors and international media since September.

As of late November, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had received funding of only $799 million from donor nations and other financial sources despite needing $925 million for relief and protection of refugees around the globe. Even if the pace of contributions increases in the final month of the year, UNHCR expects a year-end shortfall of $60 million to $100 million.

Nearly one-third of the funding shortfall affects refugees in Africa, the world's most impoverished continent and source of more than 3 million refugees and some 10 million internally displaced persons. Relief programs for 1 million refugees in East Africa and the Horn of Africa are currently $11 million under-funded for 2001, according to UNHCR. Assistance for 850,000 refugees in Central Africa faces a $10 million shortfall. More than 900,000 refugees in West Africa lack $9 million in much-needed aid. Humanitarian programs for more than 300,000 refugees in southern Africa are $4 million under-funded.

The funding shortfall also affects refugees in other regions. In the former Yugoslavia, for example, refugee relief and reintegration programs have received $15 million less than needed.

The world's lackluster support for refugee relief and protection creates added misery and dangers for refugees. See the attached document, "Impact of Budget Shortfalls in 2001 on Refugee Assistance in Africa," by the U.S. Committee for Refugees.

Even more disturbing, the budget problems confronting worldwide refugee assistance are more severe than official statistics suggest. The official UNHCR budget request this year of $925 million is an austerity budget that already incorporates a $100 million cutback imposed by donor nations earlier this year because they were unwilling to provide full funding to refugees' assistance needs. Therefore, the actual current funding shortfall facing refugee programs is at least $225 million when measured against real needs at refugee locations in all regions of the world.

The refugee budget crisis is occurring as the U.S. Congress is deliberating a final appropriation level for overseas refugee assistance for fiscal year 2002. A measure passed earlier this year by the House of Representatives would cut core U.S. funding for overseas refugee assistance by $5 million--a cut requested by the Bush Administration. A bill passed by the Senate in October would increase U.S. refugee aid abroad by about $10 million, based on current projections. A House-Senate Conference Committee is currently attempting to reconcile differences in the two bills.

The U.S. government's core funding for overseas refugee assistance has declined some $30 million over the past five years measured against inflation.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) recommends:

  • The U.S. Congress should increase rather than decrease American support for overseas refugee assistance.
  • European donor governments should increase their financial support for UNHCR after years of cutbacks that have worsened conditions in refugee camps.
  • UNHCR should formulate an adequate worldwide budget appeal in 2002 that forthrightly reflects the needs of refugees in the field. UNHCR should cease its practice of deliberately understating the true funding needs of refugee programs in a misguided effort to placate tight-fisted donor governments.
The world's financial generosity toward Afghan refugees is admirable and indicates that the international community has abundant resources to provide proper assistance to refugees even beyond Afghanistan, wherever they are. What is lacking is international will.

[Please see the following document, "Impact of Budget Shortfalls in 2001 on Refugee Assistance in Africa."]



A half-million refugees from Burundi and Congo-Kinshasa, already forced to survive on a 20 percent cut in food rations, suffered additional food cutbacks during 2001 because of shortfalls in food donations. Up to 5,000 refugees left their camps to protest the food cuts.

KENYA -- Food

Malnutrition among 120,000 Somali refugees increased because shortages of donated food forced a 30 percent cut in food rations in early 2001.

MALAWI -- Food

A shortage of relief food affected 5,000 refugees from Congo-Kinshasa and elsewhere during 2001, including 1,000 new arrivals.

TANZANIA -- Health

Funding cuts delayed purchase of emergency drugs for 500,000 refugees from Burundi and Congo-Kinshasa during 2001. Allocations of soap to refugee families were halved. Budget constraints caused fuel shortages, slowing truck deliveries of relief supplies to refugee camps.

KENYA - Education

Some 27,000 Somali and Sudanese refugee children were unable to attend school because of classroom shortages linked to budget cuts. Existing classrooms were overcrowded, averaging 120 pupils per teacher. Refugee camps in Kenya need seven new schools and 240 new classrooms, relief workers report.


Some 8,000 new refugees from Angola were largely inaccessible to relief agencies during 2001 because budget cuts of $3.1 million prevented aid workers from repairing roads and bridges to reach refugees.

SOMALIA -- Education

Education programs for refugees repatriating to northwest Somalia (Somaliland) were cut by two-thirds in 2001 because of poor funding for refugee reintegration.

SUDAN -- Education

Adult literacy and skills training for 100,000 Eritrean refugees were curtailed in 2001 because of budget cuts. The UN refugee agency prepared to close two field offices serving the refugee population.

RWANDA -- Protection

Because of a $1 million budget cut, UN officials were unable to regularly monitor the protection needs of more than 35,000 Rwandan refugees who have returned home in the past two years.

WEST AFRICA -- Protection

Adequate monitoring of the protection needs of more than 30,000 refugees deteriorated in 2001 when budget constraints forced preparations for the closure of UN refugee agency offices in seven countries: Mali, Gambia, Niger, Cameroon, Togo, Chad, and Burkina Faso.


Budget cuts of $3.1 million occurred despite 8,000 new refugee arrivals during 2001 and lack of assistance programs for tens of thousands of refugees who arrived earlier.

SOMALIA -- Health

Eight newly built maternal and child health clinics for tens of thousands of refugees returning home to Hargeisa in northwest Somalia (Somaliland) remained without medical equipment or supplies because of budget shortfalls. A local hospital in a main returnee area lacked medicines for health clinics.

ERITREA -- Reintegration

Budget constraints forced cuts in reintegration projects needed by 20,000 former refugees who repatriated to Eritrea, as well as assistance for the impoverished communities where they settled.

ETHIOPIA -- Women's Programs

Projects to empower 15,000 Sudanese refugee women to better support themselves and their children were curtailed because of a $2 million budget cut.

BOTSWANA -- Shelter

Budget cuts of 10 percent caused a shortage of appropriate shelter for hundreds of refugees from Angola and Namibia.

ETHIOPIA -- Camp Relocation

Budget constraints in 2001 delayed transfer of 4,000 Eritrean refugees to a new refugee camp needed for improved safety and easier relief deliveries.

BURUNDI -- Relief / Reintegration

Budget cuts of $3.5 million occurred despite the arrival of 3,000 new refugees from Congo-Kinshasa and the reintegration needs of 15,000 newly returned Burundian refugees during 2001.

RWANDA -- Health

Some 30,000 refugees from Congo-Kinshasa suffered deteriorating water, sanitation, health care, and education services because of budget constraints. Funding shortfalls prevented refugees from engaging in new income-generation activities that could have lessened the need for aid.

CAMEROON -- Business Loans

Some 90 percent of refugees from Chad who applied for small loans to operate income-generating enterprises and reduce their dependency on aid failed to receive loans because of budget constraints.

ETHIOPIA -- Protection

The protection needs of some 70,000 Sudanese refugees and 4,000 Eritrean refugees were not adequately monitored during 2001 because of budget constraints on the UN refugee agency.

Contact: Jeff Drumtra