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UN Urges More Funding Support for Returned Refugees - 2002-09-30

The United Nations says a decrease in the number of refugees worldwide is likely temporary, and better care must be taken of those who are able to go home.

The head of U.N. refugee agency, Ruud Lubbers says nearly two million Afghans have returned home in the past six months. He says thousands more refugees have returned to East Timor, Sierra Leone, and Eritrea.

But he warns that without donor assistance and programs to help refugees reintegrate into their societies, such returns will not be sustainable. He says the agency is facing a shortfall of at least $48 million. "The challenge now is to ensure the effective reintegration of those going home. Without this, returns may not be sustainable and the whole cycle of instability and displacement may once again begin," Mr. Lubbers said.

Speaking during the U.N. refugee agency's annual meeting, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers also said that while some conflicts have eased, allowing refugees to go home, other refugee crises are brewing in Africa and the Middle East. He points to Sudanese refugee camps recently attacked in Uganda and the imposed return of Congolese refugees from Rwanda, many of whom are being forced to join a rebel group.

The Agency's meeting was also addressed, for the first time, by the head of the Arab League. Egyptian diplomat Amr Moussa told the group he is hopeful that war can be averted in Iraq. He says he fears such a war would trigger a massive outflow of refugees.

He says this will further damage regional security already strained by ongoing Palestinian-Israeli clashes and the unresolved Palestinian refugee issue. "I cannot but think of the dire consequences, if there would be any military action against Iraq, that it would produce also another wave of refugees in different directions that would affect the situation and stability in the region even further," Mr. Moussa said.

Mr. Moussa says he has spoken with Mr. Lubbers and the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross about the humanitarian effects a possible military strike would have on Iraq and the region.