The United Nations refugee agency is seeking $18 million to meet an anticipated shortfall in funding for its operation in Iran, which is hosting more than one million Afghans who fled their homeland.
To date, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has received only around one fifth of the $36.8 million it has sought for its programmes for Afghan refugees, which are carried out in partnership with the Iranian Government.
Iran, which is facing its own economic difficulties amid the global downturn, has hosted two generations of Afghan refugees but has received little international support, " UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.
Since 2002, UNHCR has helped more than 860,000 refugees repatriate to Afghanistan. In addition, a million Afghans have returned home spontaneously since that time.
The agency noted that voluntary repatriation of Afghans from Iran has slowed considerably in recent years owing to poor security and economic conditions in Afghanistan, with only 6,000 people returning in 2009 and 3,600 in 2008.
The vast majority " 97 per cent " of the more than one million registered Afghans remaining in Iran live in urban or semi-urban settings, putting a strain on health, education and other local infrastructure.
Mr. Mahecic said that in light of the slowdown in returns, UNHCR has expanded its programme in Iran to better support services pending repatriation. Increased funding is crucial for this effort.
At present we have funds to implement only 22 per cent of identified needs across education, health, and livelihood support, as well as boosting water systems, latrines and other infrastructure in refugee settlements and in urban settings with high refugee concentrations.
The figure of $18 million that we`re requesting is to meet the anticipated gap in funding, " he noted.
While many refugees in Iran are already feeling the effects of rising inflation, UNHCR believes this will only worsen when the Government`s new five-year national economic policy " which will see the removal of subsidies for electricity, water and basic commodities like food " takes effect.
Under the new policy, expected to begin this year, the Government will provide a safety net of cash grants for Iranians. However, this will not be extended to refugees.