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Aid Cuts Slash Refugee Funds In Pakistan Amid Europe Crisis

A man teaches students at a school in Kababiyan refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, on October 6.
A man teaches students at a school in Kababiyan refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, on October 6.

Some of the 2.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan are facing reduced aid in the worst funding shortfall for a generation as the European and Syrian migrant crisis dominates headlines and drains cash, according to UN officials.

The world’s largest long-term refugee population lives in Pakistan -- mostly Afghans who fled more than three decades of war in their country.

Pakistan programs such as infant feeding, education, and sanitation are being cut as the UNHCR is struggling to deal with the exodus of people from countries like Syria, Iraq, an Afghanistan.

So far in 2015, the UNHCR’s Pakistani branch has only received $33.6 million out if its $136.7 million annual budget, officials said.

Students at schools like the one run by principal Mohammad Zamir in the Kababiyan refugee camp outside Peshawar have been told to go home.

"This year, during the summer holidays, we were suddenly told that the funds aren't there, and so we are withdrawing 7th and 8th grade classes," said Zamir, looking out over a crowd of blue-uniformed students sitting on the floor of a tent.

Thousands of children could be affected by the cuts.

More than half a million refugees have tried to enter Europe this year, including 80,000 Afghans, according to the UNHCR -- just a fraction of the 2.5 million living in Pakistan, many of whom fled violence a generation or two ago.

Afghanistan has endured several decades of displacement, starting with Soviet occupation in the 1980s, the civil war that followed and then the ongoing battle against Taliban insurgents since their hardline Islamist movement was topped in 2001.

"The UN supports Syrian refugees. But no one ever asks about Afghans. Our war has been going on for 35 years," said Mohammad Amin, a white-bearded veteran of the fight against the Soviets, unable to hide his anger.

The UNHCR's budget is underfunded by 61 percent globally in 2015, the largest gap in more than 15 years. The shortfall has forced some hard choices to be made.

"If ... there is a child who has just crossed with their families into the hills of Lebanon, and it's winter and they're freezing to death, do you give a tent there or do you replace a shelter (in Pakistan)?" asked Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR's Pakistan chief.

The cuts could unintentionally create more migrants to Europe.

At the Kababiyan camp, which is home to around 12,000 people, some members of Saida Jan's family have already decided there is no future there.

Two young relatives of the 60-year-old Afghan from Nangarhar Province, who fled his native country 35 years ago, paid people smugglers to get them to Germany and left around two months ago. They have arrived there safely.

"I cannot tell you all of the difficulties that we face over here," he added.

With reporting by Asad Hashim for Reuters