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UN refugee agency hurt by financial crisis

Published on 08/10/2008

8 October 2008

GENEVA — The number of people fleeing conflict and disaster is rising even as global financial trouble complicates fundraising to care for them, the head of the UN refugee agency said Monday.

"With high food and energy prices, their welfare is seriously at risk", UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres told the agency’s 76-nation executive committee.

UNHCR needs countries to support expected spending of USD 1.6 billion (EUR 1.2 billion) in 2008, which is almost 50 percent higher than in 2006, Guterres said.

"I fully recognize the challenges of the current financial environment", he said, but added that the agency’s spending is "very modest indeed" when compared with the hundreds of billions of dollars "being spent to bring stability to the international financial system".

Guterres didn’t give a new global figure for refugees, but said the number was rising from the total of 11.4 million people registered by the end of 2007.

In addition to the people categorised as refugees because they crossed an international border to escape violence or disaster, UNHCR also helps 14 million people who fled their homes but remain in their own countries, he said. "That is more than double the number in 2005".

"Growing numbers of people are on the move, leaving their homes to look for greater security and better opportunities", said Guterres.

Climate change, extreme poverty and conflict are forcing more and more people from their homes, he said.

"In 2008 and in Africa alone, we have seen the flight of many thousands of people, arriving in countries such as Botswana, Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda and Zambia".

Guterres said the agency reduced spending on its own operations as much as possible, and reduced its headquarters staff in high-cost Geneva to 747 people, about 30 percent lower than 2005.

[AP / Expatica]