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UNHCR cash crunch leaves refugees p
UNHCR cash crunch leaves refugees penniless
Deprived of their subsistence allowance, foreign refugees in Delhi are
unable to pay rent and school fees, reports Yana Banerjee-Bey
New Delhi, August 22
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in New Delhi
has withheld payment of subsistence allowance (SA) to refugees for
August, citing lack of funds. There is no indication when the payment
will be made, and a section of refugees plans to protest outside the
UNHCR office on August 24.
A majority of the over 16,000 Afghan, Burmese, Sudanese, Somali, Iraqi
and Iranian refugee families in Delhi are recognised as refugees by the
UNHCR and receive the allowance. A huge number is totally dependant on
the allowance and, therefore, missed paying their rent and school fees
Refugees' representatives and NGOs working for them have been told by
the UNHCR that the delay is due to "the serious financial constraints
that the UNHCR is facing globally" and "overspending of funds". The
latter, points out E. Deena Dayalan, who runs an NGO working with
refugees, is a tacit admission of mismanagement.
"The question of mismanagement needs to be asked. To tackle the present
crisis, I suggested that an appeal could be made to the embassies in
Delhi. But the UNHCR is not going to do it because the embassies will
start asking this very question. After all, their governments contribute
to the UN," he says.
It appears the UNHCR has not endeared itself to those working for
refugees' welfare. Suhas Chakma of the South Asian Human Rights
Documentation Centre says brusquely, "We don't talk to the UNHCR. We
don't want to have anything to do with them."
There is some evidence, as refugees tell their stories, that the UNHCR
does not function quite as it should and human rights are not
safeguarded. A case in point is that of student leader Benjamin Tang
Neng (29) who crossed over the border into Mizoram illegally in 1991. He
was later arrested in Calcutta for travelling without legal documents
and was sentenced to six months in jail. In the fifth month, an official
from the UNHCR visited him. But he didn't hear from the UNHCR again for
a year. He ended up spending 20 months in jail.