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UNHCR Says $1 Billion Needed for Refugees


The U.N. refugee agency is launching an appeal for more than $1 billion to support millions of people around the world uprooted by persecution and conflict. The UNHCR is holding its annual pledging conference for donor countries in Geneva, from where Lisa Schlein reports for VOA.

The largest program for 2007 is Chad, where the U.N. refugee agency cares for more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees from the conflict-ridden Darfur Province. UNHCR also assists 90,000 internally displaced Chadians. They were forced to flee their homes when there villages were attacked by Arab militia.

UNHCR Spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says $1 billion may sound like a lot of money, but it is not.

"Not when you have 21 million people who come under UNHCR's mandate," she said. "I think that works out to something like a dollar a week for each of those people. So, it is really not a huge amount of money."

Besides taking care of 8.6 million refugees, the UNHCR also assists more than 6.5 million internally displaced people. It also provides aid to more than 1.5 million people who have returned home after years in exile and several-million asylum seekers and stateless people.

Pagonis says the agency gets less than three-percent of the money it needs to run its worldwide operations from the regular U.N. budget. The rest, she says is raised through voluntary contributions. The United States last year was the biggest contributor followed by the European Commission.

Pagonis says the UNHCR is asking for somewhat less funding this year than last.

"We have had several large repatriation programs that are being wound up or will be finishing. The Sierra Leone repatriation is finished. The Angola one will be finishing this year," she said. "About 1.1 million refugees have gone home over the last year, I think. So, we have slightly less needs in those areas. But, still we are going to face great needs in Chad and other places."

After Chad, the largest operations are in Afghanistan, Liberia, Kenya and Tanzania.

Pagonis says the agency also helps thousands of Iraqi internally displaced people in the northern Kurdish part of the country. She says large numbers of Iraqi refugees fleeing the chaos in their country are in Jordan and Syria. She says the UNHCR will have to appeal for supplementary funds to assist this growing number of people.