The U.N. refugee agency is launching an appeal for more than $1 billion to assist about 17 million people next year. Nearly half of the budget is allocated for programs in Africa.
The U.N. agency cares for millions of refugees in all regions of Africa. Operations in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Zambia have been going on for decades. But the biggest and single most expensive operation is caring for the 200,000 refugees who fled to Chad from Sudan's war-torn province of Darfur.
For the past 22 months, war has been raging in Darfur between the Sudanese-backed Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, and two rebel groups. UN spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said the refugees are living in appalling conditions in Chad. "They are living in camps in an amazingly hostile desert environment. They are very worried and concerned about their future. … They do not know what is happening to them. There is a level of anxiety. There is, of course, tension with the local population, who supported them when they first came in. But, now, that welcome has worn thin, and they feel that the refugees are getting a better deal than they have," she said.
Ms. Pagonis said part of the money budgeted for the Chad operation will go toward helping local communities, to reduce tensions between them and the Sudanese refugees. She said local people have been included in supplementary feeding programs for children and women. Improvements have been made in the water supplies of local communities, and hospital centers have been upgraded.
The U.N. spokeswoman also said the agency is preparing for a possible influx of more refugees from Darfur, should the situation continue to deteriorate.
The UNHCR funds appeal also is to finance sizable repatriation operations. More than $100 million has been budgeted to help many of the nearly three-million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and Iran to go home.
Ms. Pagonis said the agency is running an unprecedented number of repatriation operations throughout Africa. One of the biggest, she said, is in Liberia, where some 340,000 refugees and internally displaced, or IDPs, are expected to go home. "This is a country, which has been absolutely ravaged by war, completely destroyed in many areas, a tremendous number of IDPs (internally displaced persons) uprooted from their homes and living in very dire conditions. I think that Liberia could well be one of the bright spots, we hope. Refugees have been returning home of their own accord, even under very dangerous and risky conditions," she said.
A peace agreement ending more than two decades of war is expected to be signed this month between the Islamic government in north Sudan and rebels in the Christian and Animist south. If the deal goes through, the UNHCR says it expects many of the 600,000 refugees who fled southern Sudan will need help to return.
The U.S. government has pledged $125 million to help fund the agency's programs.