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Ongoing crises in southern Africa prompt rise in refugee numbers, UN agency says

Ongoing crises in southern Africa prompt rise in refugee numbers, UN agency says

Showing little signs of letting up, protracted crises in southern Africa have resulted in an increase in the number of asylum seekers in the region in the first half of this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

The number of new refugees in the region increased 7.8 per cent to 345,720 the first six months of 2001. UNHCR attributed the increase to conflicts such as the Angolan civil war and the slow progress in the Congo and Burundi peace processes. In Zambia alone, 17,900 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and 9,100 Angolan refugees have arrived over the past six months. Existing camps and settlements have been extended, sometimes stretching beyond their capacity.

The upswing in southern Africa is particularly sharp in countries with traditionally small refugee populations like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, UNHCR said. In Zimbabwe, the refugee population more than doubled to 8,416 from 4,127 between January and June this year, while Mozambique saw an 85 per cent increase to 4,216.

The three countries continue to receive a small but regular inflow of asylum seekers from the Great Lakes countries, including Rwandans who may have been on the move since the 1994 genocide, as they circulate through other countries before reaching southern Africa, UNHCR said.

In other parts of the world, provisional statistics for asylum-seekers in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand during the first six months of 2001 show a slight overall increase over the same period last year. The two largest groups by far are Afghans and Iraqis, UNHCR said. It added that Germany has received the largest numbers of asylum-seekers so far in 2001, with 41,000, followed by the United Kingdom (33,000 cases) and the United States (32,000).