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UN refugees chief warns of ‘severe cuts’ without urgent new funding

The head of the UN refugee agency said Monday that his organisation will need to make deep cuts with dire consequences for displaced people, unless it receives urgent new funding.

Speaking at the start of UNHCR’s annual executive committee meeting in Geneva, Filippo Grandi voiced concern for the agency’s financial situation, at a time when the number of forcibly displaced people around the world has passed 100 million for the first time.

Pointing out that Russia’s war in Ukraine has taken UNHCR’s already-stretched emergency response capacity to new levels, he appealed “in the strongest of terms to all donors to please do more.”

“If we do not receive at least an additional $700 million… 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 cautioned.

Grandi said the war in Ukraine, which spurred “the largest and fastest displacement crisis in Europe since the Second World War”, had added over $1 billion to UNHCR’s budget this year, bringing it to $10.7 billion.

He hailed a generous response to that crisis, which has seen more than 7.6 million Ukrainians recorded across Europe since Russia’s full-scale invasion began on February 24.

But he warned that while countries had vowed that their funding towards the Ukraine emergency would not impact funding towards other crises, that “additionality is not always visible when it comes to specific contributions to UNHCR.”

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

This has left it dramatically underfunded to respond to dire refugee crises linked to places like Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Sahel region.

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

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

But he stressed that “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.