U.S. Funds to International Organizations, Including for Refugees, Could Be Cut

By Nayla Rush, March 18, 2017

President Trump just released his 2018 budget proposal. A quick first reading reveals that, as expected, the budget prioritizes the military and homeland security while reducing foreign assistance and support to environmental programs. Proposed cuts target the Environmental Protection Agency (-31.4 percent) as well as the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of the Treasury's international programs (-28.7 percent).

The budget also addresses U.S. contributions to the United Nations; it "reduces funding to the UN and affiliated agencies, including UN peacekeeping and other international organizations, by setting the expectation that these organizations rein in costs and that the funding burden be shared more fairly among members. The amount the U.S. would contribute to the UN budget would be reduced and the U.S. would not contribute more than 25 percent for UN peacekeeping costs."

This budget announcement follows last week's revised executive order, which is projected to suspend the issuance of visas for nationals of six countries of "security concern" for 90 days and pause the U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days (two federal judges have temporarily blocked the order).

Unsurprisingly, these plans raised some concern among United Nations officials, in particular those in charge of assisting refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a statement underscoring the "humanitarian imperative for refugees as new U.S. rules announced." Filippo Grandi, the UN refugee chief, further commented on the plans to suspend the U.S. refugee resettlement program: "The imperative remains to provide protection for people fleeing deadly violence, and we are concerned that this decision, though temporary, may compound the anguish for those it affects. ... UNHCR has long been a partner for the United States in finding solutions to refugee problems, and we look forward to continuing this partnership."

This "partnership" is indeed crucial to this UN agency as the United States is "the biggest donor to UNHCR and provides the largest number of resettlement places." Over 60 percent of UNHCR's resettlement submissions in 2016 were to the United States. Last year alone, the United States contributed some $1.5 billion to this UN agency (45 percent of all UNHCR 2016 budget contributions as of 30 September 30, 2016). By comparison, the combined 2016 budget contributions of Saudi Arabia ($19,088,6700), the United Arab Emirates ($1,481,299), Kuwait ($1,053,381), Qatar ($696,164), Algeria ($100,000), Morocco ($12,149), Turkey ($1,000,000), and the OPEC Fund for International Development ($300,000) totaled: $23,731,663 (0.7 percent of all contributions).

Depending on what Congress does, the 2018 budget could reduce U.S. contributions to international organizations (not just UNHCR). To get an idea of the extent of aid involved here, note that the U.S. contributions to all international organizations in FY 2016 amounted to $10,487,783,062.

For UN refugee agencies more specifically: UNHCR received $1,508,067,996 and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) received $359,498,574. Both refugee agencies (UNRWA assists only Palestinians) received a total of $1,867,566,570 from the United States in FY 2016. (Further contribution details are found at the end of this blog post.)

The United States gave over $6 billion to UN organizations in 2016. This trend seems likely to change under the Trump administration. Meanwhile, skepticism of the United Nations is growing. While some of it might be ideologically and politically driven, the United Nations is also at fault, says James Cockayne, head of the New York office of United Nations University. The United Nations has failed on many levels, he explained: "[T]he ongoing tragedy in Syria, too many instances of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers, the introduction of cholera into Haiti, and — in many parts of the world — the longstanding presence of rather inert peacekeeping operations." The UN's successes are now shadowed by it failures.

UN agencies should not only prepare for possible cuts in U.S. funding, they need to reform the whole system. Cockayne is hopeful: "Reform is not necessarily a dirty word at the UN. On the contrary, I think there's a broad recognition of the need to reform the organization." Perhaps funding cuts can contribute to shaking the foundation and putting together a better system.


U.S. Contributions to International Organizations Assisting Refugees in FY 2016
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Below are funds given in 2016 by the United States to international agencies that are involved in assisting refugees. Details are given by U.S. Bureau, account, recipient entity, purpose and description of activity, and amount of contribution.

Bureau: Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM)
Account: Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA); Migration and Refugee Assistance-Overseas Contingency Operations (MRA-OCO)
Recipient Entity: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Purpose and Description of Activity: Annual emergency and budget extension appeals for Africa, East Asia, Europe, Near East, South Asia, and the Western Hemisphere supporting protection and assistance for conflict-affected populations.
FY 2016 Obligations ($): 418,810,000

Bureau: Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM)
Account: Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA)
Recipient Entity: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
Purpose and Description of Activity: Contribution to the Disaster Recovery and Emergency Fund (DREF) and assistance for refugees in Africa and Europe.
FY 2016 Obligations ($): 3,462,808

Bureau: Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM)
Account: Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA); Migration and Refugee Assistance-Overseas Contingency Operations (MRA-OCO)
Recipient Entity: International Labour Organization (ILO)
Purpose and Description of Activity: Improving livelihoods and work opportunities for Syrian refugees and host communities in Turkey
FY 2016 Obligations ($): 2,500,000

Bureau: Bureau of Population, refugees and Migration (PRM)
Account: Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA); Migration and Refugee Assistance-Overseas Contingency Operations (MRA-OCO), Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA)
Recipient Entity: International Organization for Migration (IOM)
Purpose and Description of Activity: Contribution for migration programs, U.S. Refugee Assistance Program (USRAP), and assistance for refugees
FY 2016 Obligations ($): 312,939,422

Bureau: Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM)
Account: Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA)
Recipient Entity: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Purpose and Description of Activity: Annual and supplementary appeals for Africa, East Asia, Europe, Near East, South Asia, and the Western Hemisphere, as well as protection activities, refugee resettlement, determinations, and the global HIV/AIDS Initiative
FY 2016 Obligations ($): 1,508,067,996

Bureau: Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA)
Account: Economic Support Fund (ESF)
Recipient Entity: United Nations (UN)
Purpose and Description of Activity: Department of Political Affairs (UNDPA) operating in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in moving Camp Hurriya residents in Iraq to Albania.
FY 2016 Obligations ($): 18,500,000

Bureau: Bureau of Population, refugees and Migration (PRM)
Account: Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA); Migration and Refugee Assistance-Overseas Contingency Operations (MRA-OCO)
Recipient Entity: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
Purpose and Description of Activity: Education and WASH assistance to refugees and IDPs
FY 2016 Obligations ($): 174,884,055

Bureau: Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO)
Account: Contributions for International Peacekeeping Activities (CIPA)
Recipient Entity: United Nations Mission For Referendum In the Western Sahara (MINURSO)
Purpose and Description of Activity: U.S. share of assessed costs for UN mission. Monitors the cease-fire, provides political reporting to the United Nations Security Council, and supports the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) family visit program.
FY 2016 Obligations ($): 19,807,898

Bureau: Bureau of Population, refugees and Migration (PRM)
Account: Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA)
Recipient Entity: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Purpose and Description of Activity: Core Funding Contribution to OCHA and for OCHA-Relief Web
FY 2016 Obligations ($): 1,400,000

Bureau: Bureau of Population, refugees and Migration (PRM)
Account: Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA); Migration and Refugee Assistance-Overseas Contingency Operations (MRA-OCO)
Recipient Entity: United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Purpose and Description of Activity: Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence worldwide including needs in Africa, Near East, and Europe.
FY 2016 Obligations ($): 19,706,486

Bureau: Bureau of Population, refugees and Migration (PRM)
Account: Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA); Migration and Refugee Assistance-Overseas Contingency Operations (MRA-OCO)
Recipient Entity: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
Purpose and Description of Activity: Contributions to UNRWA's General Fund appeal, UNRWA Syria response, GBV interventions, and Emergency appeals for West Bank/Gaza and Syria
FY 2016 Obligations ($): 359,498,574

Bureau: Bureau of Population, refugees and Migration (PRM)
Account: Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA); Migration and Refugee Assistance-Overseas Contingency Operations (MRA-OCO)
Recipient Entity: World Food Program (WFP)
Purpose and Description of Activity: UN Humanitarian Air Service and Food Aid for Refugees
FY 2016 Obligations ($): 15,497,153

Bureau: Bureau of Population, refugees and Migration (PRM)
Account: Migration and Refugee Assistance-Overseas Contingency
Recipient Entity: World Health Organization (WHO)
Purpose and Description of Activity: Provision of health care services to refugees and their host communities; support for and strengthening of national health systems.
FY 2016 Obligations ($): 1,000,000

This brings the total of U.S. contributions to international organizations directly involved in assisting refugees to $2,856,074,392.