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Monday, 30 September, 2002, 20:50 GMT 21:50 UK
UN refugee agency $80m short
Afghan refugee mother and child in tent
More than two million Afghans have returned home

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called for donor countries to come forward with more funds as his agency faces an $80m shortfall this year.

Speaking in Geneva, Commissioner Ruud Lubbers also criticised the increased use of detention for asylum seekers in some countries and outlined plans for widening the scope of the 51-year-old UN convention on refugees.

Refugees from Sierra Leone
Countries such as Sierra Leone have seen displaced people return

The funding shortfall comes despite the fact that the number of refugees being cared for by the office of the UNHCR has fallen by several million in the past two years.

Mr Lubbers told the annual meeting of the refugee agency's executive committee that nearly 20 million people were now under UN care, and that the number was continuing to fall.

In particular, more than two million people had returned to Afghanistan since March of this year, in what Mr Lubbers called "a remarkable testimony to the Afghans'... optimism about the future".

A further 220,000 had returned to East Timor, thousands had returned to Sierra Leone and Eritrea, and many more may return to Angola and Congo-Brazzaville, he said.

'Ongoing challenges'

However, Mr Lubbers warned that an end to the displacement of people could only be halted by the reconstruction of countries damaged by war.

"Without this, returns may not be sustainable and the whole cycle of instability and displacement may once again begin," he said.

Mr Lubbers said there were "ongoing challenges" in Uganda, Rwanda, and Liberia and most recently the Ivory Coast, which he said was a reminder of West Africa's "fragile situation".

He went on to condemn what he described as the continuing tendency of the media and politicians in some countries to "demonise" refugees - "particularly during election campaigns".

He also said that an increasing trend in many countries toward the detention of asylum seekers and refugees was "worrying".

Damaging shortfalls

Mr Lubbers warned that the large shortfalls in funding and the risk of further cutbacks were hampering the agency's efforts to repatriate refugees.

"Since we already reduced the 2002 budget in the middle of the year... these additional reductions will have further severe consequences for refugees," Mr Lubbers said.

The refugee agency hopes that this new session of the executive committee will approve a new agenda for the protection of refugees, the BBC's Imogen Foulkes reports.

Mr Lubbers said the 1951 Refugee Convention was no longer enough and he wanted multilateral commitments for the resettlement of refugees, greater burden-sharing during times of crisis and more long-term solutions - all of which will require more money.

See also:

25 Sep 02 | South Asia
10 Sep 02 | Middle East
28 Aug 02 | South Asia
30 Oct 01 | South Asia
17 Feb 01 | Africa
13 Feb 02 | Africa
11 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
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