Refugee crisis: Overwhelmed UN agency to seek extra funding from oil states

The UNHCR is almost £2bn short of what is needed to keep camps functioning in Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey

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The Independent Online

The United Nations refugee agency is struggling to fund its operations in the scores of camps that border Syria, and may turn to Middle East oil states to do more.

The UNHCR is almost $3bn (£2bn) short of what is needed to keep camps functioning in Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey.

Despite the European promise to adopt a more open-arms attitude to refugees, forecasts suggest the crisis will only deepen this year and although the expectation is that the EU will try to improve its co-ordinated effort, the countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) have so far taken fewer than 100 refugees or asylum-seekers from Syria.

Although the GCC states – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman – already have thousands of expatriate Syrians working within their borders, they have no formal status. The GCC states’ relief funding also tends to be delivered through private projects or through Islamic Relief rather than through formal UN channels.

In 2013, a funding summit in Kuwait, involving the GCC, promised to deliver $650m in aid. But it took more than four months for the money to appear and in the meantime the UN’s World Food Programme struggled to find the $19m a week it needed to feed the then 2.5 million refugees inside Syria and the further 1.5 million who had fled to bordering camps. However, the pledges were eventually honoured.

Two years on, the number of displaced individuals and those in the camps that have been operating for almost five years has increased rapidly and the aid that is needed from donor nations is far higher.

A UNHCR spokeswoman told The Independent on Sunday: “The camps are being overwhelmed; it is increasingly difficult for donors to keep funding at the levels they have been.”

She said that because the situation was worsening, the UNHCR was constantly having to revise what it could do. Its latest projection is that $4.5bn is needed to cope with the current refugee crisis. So far it has received only $1.7bn. The organisation has forecast that a further 1.18 million Syrians will seek shelter in camps in bordering states. By the end of this year that will mean 4.27 million refugees being hosted by five countries: Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

A further 100,000 refugees are expected in Turkey, which currently hosts 1.6 million Syrians. In Lebanon, refugee numbers are expected to grow by 300,00 over the next four months, taking the numbers there close to 1.5 million.

The UNHCR welcomes the shift in how refugees are being seen across Europe. However, the welcome came with a key caveat. A spokeswoman said: “Those that we see on our television screens, being welcomed somewhere, or succeeding in reaching the country they wanted, are probably the privileged individuals capable of funding these hazardous journeys. It is important to remember who is left in the camps: the elderly and vulnerable, children.

“Life for many has now meant five years in refugee camps – with little prospect of that changing.”