All refugees are equals

The war in Ukraine has raised uncomfortable questions about how to fund rescue operations for populations hit by war or natural disasters. However, it has also provided an opportunity to reflect. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), along with other humanitarian organizations, has welcomed the response from developed countries to the Ukrainian refugee crisis. But it has also felt the need to urge them to respond similarly towards refugees from other war zones, no matter their nationality, race, or religion.

In just two weeks, the crisis in Ukraine has generated a wave of public and private donations, securing resources in an unprecedented volume. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that more than $200 million had been donated to the agency’s emergency response in Ukraine, while the entire appeal involving aid to Ukrainians inside the country exceeds the $1 billion mark. The donations already represent half of what the United Nations has requested as emergency assistance for refugees and internally displaced persons throughout the region, not including contributions from national governments.

The crisis has also led many leading companies to support the agency's response, with IKEA, for example, donating 20 million euros to the humanitarian emergency. Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, issued a call for “governments, companies, and philanthropists of the world” to join the effort and “increase aid support to the UN and the people fleeing Ukraine.” Other companies to offer donations include (Google’s charitable arm), Volkswagen, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Mazda Motor Corporation, Deloitte, JYSK, AUDI, Marks & Spencer, Banco Santander, Vodafone Foundation, Armani, Prada Group, Gucci, and many others.

Preliminary analysis by the Center for Global Development (CGD) indicates that dealing with the largest wave of refugees since World War II could cost EU economies about 30 billion euros in the coming months, putting a heavy strain on budgets already strained by two years of pandemic.

“We welcome this tremendous reception and solidarity exhibited towards refugees in recent days, and hope this might inspire some reflection and a shift from some of the toxic narratives and policies we have seen in a number of contexts,” Kathryn Mahoney, a spokesperson for UNHCR told our colleagues at Reuters. She added that “UNHCR continues to advocate for access to protection for all of those who seek it, including those from Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia and other countries and regions, based on the international obligations of asylum countries to protect refugees.”

Jan Egeland, the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, also made a similar request. “While we look with shock and horror at what is unfolding in Ukraine, we are reminded of the intense and worsening suffering that the Syrian population has endured for 11 long years,” he said, adding pointedly, “One of the greatest human tragedies of our time has gotten worse over the last year in the shadow of crises elsewhere.”

Egeland concluded, “In the past two weeks, Europe has shown that it is possible to mobilize tremendous resources for the vulnerable in their hour of greatest need. It is paramount that countries also open their doors and resources to Syrians who urgently need aid, protection and safety.”


The UN predicts that it will need $41 billion in total in 2022, to provide relief to 183 million people in 63 countries. But at the end of the third month of the year, the organization had received only 3.5% of the amount needed to help the victims of wars, poverty, and environmental disasters. In 2021 it only raised $1.5 billion between January–June.

Some appeals have largely remained unheard. No money has been pledged for El Salvador, and only 8% of the requested aid for Lebanon—devastated by the Beyrouth explosion—has been received. For the 6 million Venezuelan refugees, the UN had requested a total of $1.4 billion in 2021. It ended the year with only 40% of the money needed.

In Syria, where more than 200,000 people have died in ten years of war and 13 million are living as refugees or internally displaced, the UN is 54% short of the $4.2 billion aid package it requested. 90% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are living in extreme poverty.

On Wednesday, it was Antonio Guterres himself who sounded the alarm on another crisis: Yemen. “Yemen may have receded from the headlines, but the human suffering has not relented,” he said. “For seven years and counting, the Yemeni people have been confronting death, destruction, displacement, starvation, terror, division, and destitution on a massive scale.” His appeal was made before a High-Level Pledging Event co-hosted by Switzerland and Sweden. Thirty-six donors pledged nearly US$1.3 billion towards the humanitarian response in Yemen.