The United Nations Refugee Agency is appealing for more than $1 billion to fund its refugee assistance and protection work next year. The funds are to benefit 20.5 million people worldwide.

The money is to help a wide range of people, including refugees, internally displaced people, returning refugees, asylum-seekers, as well as communities affected by refugee crises.

U.N. Refugee spokesman Kris Janowski says Afghanistan will remain the agency's single largest operation worldwide. "We have seen a very, very large return movement over the past few years, and this return movement will continue," he said, "and, of course, these people are often going to very difficult circumstances. They need shelter. They need various other help. So, Afghanistan will probably be the single largest chunk of our budget. But, we also, hopefully, will have some sort of return operation to Iraq, once the situation stabilizes there. We also have continued returns to Sri Lanka, for example."

Since the fall of the Taleban in 2002, the U.N. refugee agency has helped about three million Afghan refugees and displaced people go back to their communities. The agency plans to allocate about $132 million for projects in Afghanistan next year.

As in previous years, Africa will continue to be a major focus. Mr. Janowski says more than a third of the agency's budget will go for repatriation and refugee assistance in Africa. He says the UNHCR cares for more than 3.3 million people in Africa, some of them exiled since wars erupted in their homelands more than 30 years ago.

He says a big chunk of money will go toward repatriating refugees to Sierra Leone, Angola and Eritrea. And, he says plans are under way to help more than one-half million Sudanese refugees return home, once a peace agreement is signed, ending the country's two-decade-long civil war.

Mr. Janowski calls the growing number of repatriation operations a positive sign that situations in some parts of the world are improving. "I remember situations not so long ago when the lion's share of our budget went basically to support civilian populations in war zones, internally displaced people, who at the time did not really see much light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "For example, the Balkans in the 1990s, when the war was raging, and we were essentially spending hundreds of millions of dollars on care and maintenance in somehow trying to sustain these populations. But, there was no solution at the time in sight."

Despite these encouraging signs, Mr. Janowski says, unresolved refugee problems in a number of countries continue to put enormous demands on the UNHCR, such as refugees from Burundi, Western Sahara and Somalia.