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UNHCR funding deficit crisis – US$270 million needed to support Syrian refugees

The UNHCR, the UN’s Refugee Agency is facing an urgent shortfall of US$270 million for their work with Syrian refugees and internally displaced people. The money is needed to provide cash assistance, protection, education, health and shelter services for the 5.6 million Syrian refugees in the Levant region for the rest of 2018. UNHCR are concerned that the lack of funding will cause a shortfall of essential winter supplies and if the impending battle for Idlib commences as planned, the shortage could be even more grave with another 3 million Syrians needing assistance.

UNHCR’s 2018 total financial requirements for protection and assistance for the Syria situation amounts to US$1.97 billion. As of September, only US$610 million had been received – which is 31 per cent of the requirement, accounting for the huge deficit. In the statement issued on 11 September the UNHCR said,

‘US$196.5 million would allow UNHCR to continue essential programmes until the end of the year in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. This includes cash assistance, protection, health, and shelter activities.’

US$ 44 million of the total $270 million is needed for cash assistance activities. Without this much-needed cash assistance 456,000 refugees will not be able to continue paying rent and accessing essential needs such as healthcare services.

Radwan, a Syrian refugee speaks about the impact of stopping cash assistance,

“We are in debt to the grocery shop. Our children need healthcare, medicine, milk but we can’t afford that.”

The UNHCR mid-year report on regional cash assistance indicates that 1.8 million people had been assessed for cash assistance up until June 2018 and over 85 per cent of Syrian refugees who live in Jordan are below the poverty line.

The agency also requires another US$36 million to address the ever-increasing healthcare costs. These funds would enable the UNHCR to provide healthcare support medical services such as vaccinations for around 35,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees in the region, especially in Jordan and Lebanon which will not be possible without the input of these funds.


The UNHCR works to provide assistance to refugees from all over the world and has been doing so for the last 65 years, helping over 50 million refugees. But the Syrian conflict of the last 7 years, and the resulting millions of displaced and internally displaced Syrians, has placed immense strain on UNHCR resources. There are currently 561 UNHCR staff based in Syria and so far this year, UNHCR Syria protection activities have reached 897,475 beneficiaries in different areas of Syria.

This is the not the first time that the UNHCR has had an issue with funding and without good measures to resolve the funding gap it will not be the last. The US$270 million deficit is part of a wider US$4.1 billion funding gap in the UN response plan for Syrian refugees in 2018. In 2016 donors pledged over $10 billion for Syria at an international conference called ‘Supporting Syria and the Region’, but not all of those pledges have been fulfilled.

Despite UN calls for assistance with funding, the general consensus from the wider international community is that the best solution would be to solve the conflict itself, rather than throw money at the humanitarian problems caused by conflict. In 2016, Filippo Grandi warned of the grave humanitarian consequences of the war. On receiving the aid pledge, he said,

“But let me insist, the only solution is political. Otherwise the war will continue, and next year we’ll be here again or in another capital, asking again for billions of dollars. For how long can we do that?”

Two years on and it seems the international community have still not heard his calls for an end to the conflict, nor his warnings about the dire and tragic consequences.

IOHR supports the #ExtendTheWelcome campaign to call on the UK government to welcome more Syrian refugees to the UK and to extend the resettlement scheme past 2020.

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