Today is World Refugee Day, and in refugee camps in some African countries, people are going hungry. A funding shortfall has forced the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to halve the amount of food rations it's giving to refugees living in camps in at least four African countries. The cuts have affected hundreds of thousands of refugees in Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.
Cuts to rations are leading to hunger within the camps - Sanky Kabeya, a resident of the Dzaleka camp in Malawi, told IRIN News "even the full ration wasn't enough. I haven't taken breakfast this morning and many are in the same situation". Most residents of the camps don't have a source of income, according to Michelle Carter, the country director for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Malawi. As a result, she says single mothers and unaccompanied minors have been hardest hit, since they cannot necessarily pool together what rations are available with other family members.
An assessment is planned in the coming months to determine the full impact of the ration cuts, according to Gavin Lim of the UN Refugee Agency in Malawi; he said reports have already emerged of some women in the camps turning to "survival sex". WFP spokesperson for east and southern Africa David Orr said "There is inevitably some donor fatigue regarding longstanding or protracted refugee loads; these funding issues affect more than just food".
World Refugee Day is also designed to raise awareness of newly displaced individuals - UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon noted today that more than a million individuals have been displaced over the past 18 months due to conflicts in Cote d'Ivoire, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria.
Refugees are also forced from their homes for reasons other than armed conflict, including persecution and climate change. Whatever the reason, they are often forced to remain away from their homes for any length of time. As the situation in Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda makes clear, many temporary refugee camps can remain in place for long periods, potentially stretching funding thin and leading to a lack of resources.
The day is being observed around the world, with events and talks held in many countries, while landmarks including Rome's Coliseum, the Ericsson Globe (or Globen) in Stockholm, Sweden, the Empire State Building in New York and Toronto's CN Tower will be lit up in UN blue this evening.
There are events planned across Canada to mark World Refugee Day and raise awareness of the plight of refugees. For a full list of events in London, Ontario, Montreal, Ottawa, Red Deer, Sherbrooke, Toronto, and Vancouver, visit the UNHCR site right here. And if you're interested in donating to the WFP, check out their donation page here. George is Canada's First WFP Ambassador Against Hunger.
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