In Africa, which has the largest share of the world's refugees, money has been found to continue a program that has drastically reduced rapes in the scrubbrush outside a trio of Somali refugee camps in northeastern Kenya. But a senior U.N. official called the good news an exception, because donor fatigue is diminishing services this year for refugees unlucky enough to be anywhere but Kosovo.
"Mobilizing resources for any crisis in Africa is like climbing a mountain," said Soren Jessen-Petersen, the assistant U.N. refugee commissioner.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), charged with caring for people displaced by conflict, has raised 90 percent of the money it needs for refugees from the Kosovo war. But it has raised just 60 percent of its budget for more than 6 million refugees in Africa. Jessen-Petersen said Africa programs, already pared from a year ago, will almost certainly be cut again to prevent the agency from going into the red.
"At the end of the year we go back to our donors and say, 'Please go back and look in your drawers one more time,' " he said. "And this year they'll be telling us there is nothing in those drawers, because they gave it all to Kosovo."
The consequences are apparent across the continent that has one-tenth of the world's people but half of its armed conflicts.
In West Africa, where more than 400,000 people fled civil war in Sierra Leone, the U.N. refugee agency has been unable to raise the $4 million required to move refugees along the country's border, leaving tens of thousands vulnerable in neighboring Guinea. In Ivory Coast, thousands who fled violence in neighboring Liberia have been in camps for a decade. But almost none of the children go to school. Funding shortfalls have left "almost nothing in terms of basic education," Jessen-Petersen said.
Perhaps the most striking shortfalls involve safety. In the three Kenya camps where 100,000 Somalis have lived since their central government collapsed in 1991, women were being raped at extraordinary rates as they gathered firewood in the scrub beyond camp fences: One study estimated that rape occurred 75 times more often than would be expected in a typical population.
UNHCR began providing firewood only after the United States provided a special appropriation last year. Rapes plummeted. The program was to expire over the summer, but was revived after a spate of publicity coincided with a visit by the agency's top fundraiser.
"We will make firewood a regular program, like sheeting, like blankets," said W. Collins Asare, director of the three camps.
In camps a few hundred miles to the south, rampant sexual violence continues. The UNHCR camps in northwestern Tanzania shelter about 270,000 people who fled ethnic fighting in neighboring Burundi. Aid agencies call statistics sketchy, but the Washington advocacy group Refugees International this year reported that a quarter of women in the camps said they had been raped or threatened with sexual violence.
A group of 50 women were raped while collecting firewood outside one camp in May. Officials said the approximately 100 assailants were villagers who blamed refugees for the death of a local schoolteacher.
Researchers for Human Rights Watch, the New York watchdog group, found high rates of domestic violence as well as attacks by strangers. The group blamed UNHCR for "sluggish progress" in implementing policies protecting women.
The agency vowed to improve its performance. A spokesman noted that the United States has earmarked $500,000 "to insure the security and neutrality" of the Tanzania camps.
"I think funding is really legitimately an issue, but it's not only a funding problem," said Binaifer Nowrojee, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. "I think it seems worse because the refugee crises are becoming stagnant and massive. And certainly Kosovo pointed up the difference in response between refugees who are white and refugees who are black. . . .but the UNHCR as a U.N. agency has a responsibility not to just accept this disparity as a racist policy. "
But U.N. officials returned to the frustrating obscurity of African crises, emphasizing that the continent is remote from richer countries in more ways than one. Jessen-Petersen said proximity plays a fundamental role in any refugee crisis. Australia brought self-interest as well as altruism to its peacekeeping efforts in East Timor, he said, noting that those fleeing militias on the island were a short boat ride from Australia.
"You look at Kosovo: Not only can you relate to it as a European, there was also a concern for a major refugee outflow," he said. "It's a hell of a long way from Africa to Europe, a great distance till you actually get people landing on your shores."