The World Food Program has launched an urgent appeal for financial aid to enable it to continue feeding Eritrean refugees in Sudan. The situation has become dire because the Eritreans are to lose their refugee status at the end of the year.

World Food Program Spokeswoman Christiane Bertiaume says the organization will be forced to suspend its assistance to the Eritrean refugees unless fresh contributions are made quickly.

"What we need right now very urgently is 10,000 tons of food worth roughly more than $5 million," she said. "If we could get the money in cash we would prefer it because we could buy food in the region and get it there very quickly."

Ms. Bertiame says without food donations, the refugees will have nothing.

The World Food Program says about 50,000 Eritreans have returned home from refugee camps in eastern Sudan, but there are still 91,000 who are totally dependent on food aid. The majority of the Eritrean refugees are found in Sudan.

Last May, the United Nations refugee agency announced it was ending refugee status for all Eritreans at the end of the year because their country is now at peace. It is helping refugees to go home, but progress is slow.

The World Food Program says the delay is due in part to the drought affecting Eritrea. In addition, the country cannot immediately absorb large numbers of returning refugees.

Spokeswoman Christiane Bertiaume says many people forget that the Eritrean refugees in Sudan need to be fed. "This is one of the silent crises," she said. "Some of those refugees have been there since 1984. And so we have now big, big problems to get the necessary funds to buy food and help these people. Because of a lack of funds we had to reduce by half the ration of these refugees."

Ms. Bertiaume says the United States and Japan have provided some assistance, but more is needed. The U.N. refugee agency says it is making a special provision for those refugees who fear for their lives should they go home. It says if there is a continued need for asylum beyond the end of the year, people in this category will be considered refugees.