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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
Afghan refugee aid funds in crisis
Afghan refugees cross the border into Afghanistan
The flow of returnees recently turned into a flood

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has suspended indefinitely its programmes to transport Afghan refugees home from Iran because of funding problems.


The gap between the pledges and the actual contributions may be quite considerabl

IOM spokesman Chris Lom
Over the past four months the IOM has provided return transport for more than a quarter of a million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP) throughout Afghanistan.

But an $18.7 million shortfall for the programme means the organisation can no longer afford to run the trucks.

With immediate effect, the IOM transport offered to the 2,500 refugees returning from Iran each day will have to stop.

Similar transport offered to IDPs in refugee camps inside Afghanistan who want to go back home too will come to an end.

Transport costs

Chris Lom, an IOM spokesman, says the organisation deeply regrets the "dramatic scaling back of its Afghan programme".
Internally displaced women and children in northern Afghanistan
Internally displaced Afghans suffer greatly
"I think the donors have responded fairly generously to the crisis in Afghanistan but it's a huge crisis and they need a huge amount of money.

"But the gap between the pledges and the actual contributions may be quite considerable at this point," he says," possibly because people are waiting to see what will be the political outcome."

Aside from insufficient funding from the international community, the organisation also blamed its cutbacks on a higher than expected number of refugees coming back to Afghanistan.

The vastly inflated transport costs imposed by trucking cartels in the western city of Herat too was blamed.

Internally displaced

Despite sending its donors a 48-hour emergency appeal for more money on Tuesday, the IOM was not able to raise enough new money to continue operations.

Afghans distribute aid at a UNHCR facility
Most returnees depend on donor handouts

"Several donors have responded sympathetically to IOM's appeal," Mr Lom said, "But the total response was not sufficient.

"Unlike many agencies, our operational funding is entirely project-based and under our existing constitution IOM cannot draw on reserves or run into deficit."

Because donors contribute to specific projects within the IOM, the emergency appeal did attract new injections of cash for other IOM schemes.

Some of these, like the maintenance of IDP camps in northern and western Afghanistan, had previously been scrapped due to funding shortfalls.

Small grants

Other projects, however, are newly in doubt.

The Return Of Qualified Afghans programme, designed to bring back Afghan professionals living abroad to participate in the reconstruction of their country, is now under threat of suspension.

Mother and child waiting in a barren camp near the Iranian border
Some returnees already receive little aid

The scheme has already returned 227 people, has found jobs for a further 343 people and has some 3,000 applicants on its waiting list.

It is a scheme that the Afghan authorities, knowing that the country has a critical shortage of trained teachers, doctors, nurses and engineers, had greatly welcomed.

Other refugee agencies can not afford to pick up the pieces.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says it will try to help out the returnees from Iran, by providing small cash grants ranging from $5 to $30 per person depending on their destination.

Food shortage

But the UNHCR warns that currently it only has funding until the end of June.

Refugees checking ration bags
Some would lose their meagre supplies

"A lot of the returnees are no longer getting what they need now," says Rupert Coleville, UNHCR spokesman.

"In Jalalabad, Kabul and Herat, returnee families are currently receiving only 50kg of World Food Programme wheat.

"Normally they would receive three times that; 150 kg. Our stocks of family kits are running extremely low too," he says.

Earlier in the week, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned it faced a food shortage of more than 50,000 tonnes.

'Big problem'

The receipt of less than half of the $285 m budget it had requested for operations in Afghanistan, prompted it to slash its school-feeding programmes in Mazar-e-Sharif by three quarters.

There are fears that there could be a total break in the WFP projects in Afghanistan by July.

"We are really facing a major problem in Afghanistan," warns Rupert Coleville. "At present, UNHCR only has $179 m of the $271 m we asked for.

"If fresh contributions don't arrive, we could be faced with some very hard choices, including the stopping of travel grants for returnees and the drastic reduction in basic housing and water projects.

"Its a very big problem now," he says.

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The BBC's Pam O'Toole
"Many... say they want to return to their home areas"

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