Continued US aid vital for Ukraine refugees returning home: UNHCR

By Thomson Reuters Feb 20, 2024 | 6:14 AM

GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday it was vital for the United States to maintain its funding of humanitarian agencies to ease the refugee crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

UNHCR requires $993 million to fund its response to the crisis caused by the invasion, which marks its second anniversary on Saturday.

A total of $600 million has been earmarked to repair houses and provide aid to ensure that those who fled can return home. But only 13% of the appeal has been funded so far.

“We are, of course, very much looking at the situation in the U.S., which is our main funder globally,” Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR Regional Director for Europe, told a briefing in Geneva via video link.

“The State Department is supposed to get additional budget possibilities, including for the aid to Ukraine, which has not yet been voted by Congress. Obviously part of that support could possibly go to UNHCR and other U.N. agencies to support refugees in Ukraine.”

The United States contributes more than 30% of UNHCR’s budget, Leclerc said, with the European Union, Germany and Japan the agency’s other top donors.

Russia’s invasion has forced some 6.3 million people in Ukraine to flee abroad. Another 3.7 million remain internally displaced, according to UNHCR.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is also trying to find out what happened 23,000 people – both on the Ukrainian and Russian sides – whose families have had no news of them. This could be because they have been captured, killed or lost contact with their relatives after fleeing their homes.

Leclerc said that most Ukrainian refugees had expressed the desire to return home but that missile attacks and uncertain economic prospects were preventing them from doing so. He said UNHCR was prioritising the repair of homes.

“We will need this generosity that we have seen all over the world to continue for Ukraine, as long as the war continues,” Leclerc said.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)