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UN Refugee Agency Says Budget Shortfall Threatens Operations - 2002-10-22

The U.N. refugee agency said it is facing a serious money shortage that is threatening its operations around the world. The agency has said it has been forced to halt many operations and will have to halt others if it does not get more financial assistance by the end of the month.

Ron Redmond, the spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said the agency needs $80 million to maintain "minimum standards" for refugees, for the rest of the year.

"Our most pressing needs are in Africa right now. We have numerous protracted refugee situations in the region. The secretary-general last month had sent a letter on UNHCR's behalf to donors, explaining the plight particularly of African refugees and how we needed this funding now," he said.

Mr. Redmond said the agency has been forced to cut water, health and education assistance programs for Eritrean refugees returning home from the Sudan. He said the agency also has had to scale back security measures in refugee camps in Tanzania and has had to cut nearly a million dollars in aid to Sudanese refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The refugee agency helps nearly 20 million refugees in 114 countries. Spokesman Redmond said the agency's severe funding shortfall will be felt globally, not just in Africa. "In Europe for example, cuts are looming for a variety of programs ranging from the procurement of children's winter clothing in the Caucuses to postponing shelter programs for returnees in Chechnya, Bosnia-Herzegovina to help people return home and re-integrate are being cut. In Kosovo, stoves, firewood and other winter supplies are threatened," he said.

Because of what Mr. Redmond calls the agency's "hand-to-mouth" situation, he says it will be in even more trouble if another emergency arises.