GENEVA - The Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme, James Morris, today called for continued support for refugees returning home to countries recovering from conflict and warned of the effects of dwindling funding for refugees and displaced people all over the world.
Addressing the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, Morris stressed the importance that both WFP and UNHCR attach to providing shelter and food to people returning home after years of conflict to try to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
"Our responsibilities do not stop at the refugee camps," Morris said. "When conflicts end and emergencies subside, and the refugees and internally displaced can finally go home, their problems are far from over. Not addressing them can, in fact, lay the ground for future political conflict."
Citing the example of Liberia, a country now poised on the brink of peace and stability after 14 years of civil war, Morris noted that a whole generation had grown up against a background of constant conflict and flight; their childhood memories dominated by horrific images of violence.
"We owe these young men and women the chance to secure a better future for themselves," Morris said. "Yet, ever since the television cameras left the war-ravaged streets of Monrovia, the funds have started to dry up. For more than three-quarters of a million people in the region, that means the food runs out in about eight weeks' time."
Morris drew attention to the growing shortfall in funds for WFP's refugee-related operations. The agency is now some US$220 million short of the US$865 million needed this year to feed nearly 11 million people in refugee-related operations. This means that hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, many of them children, will have their rations cut. "Those are the facts. But try to explain them to a hungry child," he said.
Morris also expressed his concern about the plight of refugees and internally displaced people struggling to survive in areas largely unnoticed or forgotten by the world media.
In recent weeks, the crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan has focused world attention on nearly 200,000 people who fled across the border into Chad. But the plight of some 27,000 other refugees who fled into Chad from the Central African Republic two years ago, has gone largely unreported. Yet they too are dependent on WFP food aid - which is now running out.
Indeed, the vast majority of the world's refugees have been forgotten, the victims of conflicts unresolved for years or even decades. In some camps, the number of children and adults born there outnumber those who originally fled their homes.
While most WFP refugee beneficiaries are in Africa - the agency is providing food to refugees in 22 African countries - it is also feeding people who have fled across borders in Asia and Europe.
Morris spoke of the importance of partnerships in dealing with the problem of refugees and highlighted the joint successes of WFP operations in tandem with UNHCR. He paid tribute to the UN refugee agency's work to meet the non-food assistance needs of refugees and in particular to its efforts on refugee protection, working together with governments to try to ensure that the legal and physical protection needs of refugees are guaranteed.
UNHCR put the total number of refugees in the world at the end of 2003 at 9.7 million, 10 percent down on the previous year. The falling numbers were largely as a result of repatriation - about 1.1 million refugees returned home last year, including 646,000 to Afghanistan, 133,000 to Angola, 82,000 to Burundi and 55,000 to Iraq.
But large numbers of new refugees fled six countries in 2003: Sudan (112,000), Liberia (87,000), Central African Republic (33,000), Democratic Republic of Congo (30,000), Cote d'Ivoire (22,000) and Somalia (15,000).
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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