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UNHCR: Thousands of Refugees in Camps, Urban Areas Left Without Basic Aid

A new report finds nearly a third of refugees and other people cared for by the U.N. refugee agency are not getting their basic needs met. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The U.N. refugee agency conducted assessments in eight pilot countries, including Cameroon, Ecuador, Georgia, Rwanda, Thailand, Tanzania, Yemen and Zambia early this year.

Refugees living in camps, as well as those living in urban areas were surveyed. So were internally displaced and stateless people.

U.N. refugee spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis tells VOA aid workers were unprepared for what they found.

"And, the startling finding, I think, was really that 30 percent of the basic needs of refugees are not being met. And, that is for education, health, sanitation," said Pagonis. "Very simple things like this that can have such a profound effect on the lives of refugees."

Pagonis says refugees living in camps tend to get assistance, such as food, from humanitarian agencies. She says they also live in a slightly more protected environment than do urban refugees.

She says the concerns of refugees living in cities are different. She says they may be living in apartments, may lack documents and may face eviction or deportation. She says urban refugees tend to need more legal protection from the UNHCR.

She says the report was done in Georgia before the latest conflict in August. She says aid workers looked at the plight of some 100,000 refugees and displaced people who fled from the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the 1990's.

She says they are still living in collective centers.

"And, the conditions in those collective centers could only be described as deplorable. Lack of access to water, lack of access to a functioning sewage system. Very, very basic things. Very cramped conditions. Whole families from grandmothers down to grand children living in one room," added Pagonis. "These are the kinds of conditions that were found. And, as a consequence of this there were family tensions. Children were not going to school. There were problems with health from lack of sanitation and access to clean water."

Pagonis says each of the eight pilot countries surveyed had their own tragic stories to tell. While the refugee situations differ, Pagonis says they share a sense of common deprivation.

She says the assessments identify areas which should be improved. These include access to asylum systems, registration, documentation and border monitoring. She says child protection and measures to prevent sexual abuse and violence also need to be strengthened.

She says the UNHCR will ask donors for $63.5 million to provide more of the refugees' unmet needs.