UN refugee chief warns of ‘severe cuts’ without urgent funding

UNHCR makes an appeal for $700m to help the 100 million people currently displaced around the world.

Two women hold up signs in bright colours reading 'refugees welcome'
The UNHCR has made an urgent appeal for funding as it tackles multiple crises around the world [File: Toby Melville/Reuters]

The UN refugee agency will have to make deep cuts with dire consequences for displaced people around the globe unless it quickly receives $700m in new funding, the head of the agency said on Monday.

The war in Ukraine has created millions of refugees, and there are now more than 100 million people who have been forcibly displaced in the world, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi said. He said the crisis has caused his his agency’s budget to balloon to more than $10bn.

“I regret to inform you that for the first time during my tenure, I’m worried about UNHCR’s financial situation,” Grandi said.

“If we do not receive at least an additional $700m, especially for our most underfunded operations between now and the end of this year, we will be forced to make severe cuts with negative and sometimes dramatic consequences for refugees and host communities,” he said. “In the strongest of terms to all donors, please do more.”

He said the Ukraine conflict had spurred “the largest and fastest displacement crisis” in Europe since World War II and added more than $1bn to the UNHCR’s budget this year.

More than 7.6 million Ukrainians have fled their country since Russia’s invasion began on February 24. Grandi said he was worried about the impact of cold weather during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter on 6.2 million people internally displaced in Ukraine.

“I share the government’s concerns about the looming winter,” he said, adding that the elderly and disabled were especially vulnerable.

‘Dooming refugees’

Grandi complained that most of the funding his UN agency receives from countries is heavily earmarked for particular projects, making it difficult to respond to where it sees the greatest needs.

This has left its response dramatically underfunded for dire refugee crises in places such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and the Sahel region.

Funding to help the millions of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries is “at its lowest level ever”, he warned.

Grandi said the UN refugee agency had been working hard to expand its donor base and has dramatically increased the funds it raises from private sources from $421m in 2019 to more than $1bn this year.

But he stressed, “as a United Nations agency, one created by member states with a specific mandate, we cannot be reliant on the goodwill of individuals or companies alone”.

“If we do not maintain focus on all crises, if we do not adequately resource all responses, we are dooming refugees and their hosts to further hardship, loss of hope and the risk of onward movement,” Grandi said.

Contributions from government partners and the European Union (EU) account for almost 90 percent of the refugee agency’s annual income, with the United States, the EU and Germany the top donors as of December last year, according to the UNHCR website.

Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Denmark provide most unearmarked funding.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies