UN agency assists highest ever number of refugees and displaced
“After a five-year decline in the number of refugees between 2001 and 2005, we have now seen two years of increases, and that’s a concern,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres said in London today after the report was released.
Using figures collected from 150 countries the report says there were a total of 11.4 million refugees outside their countries, as well as 26 million others displaced internally by conflict or persecution at the end of 2007.
“We are now faced with a complex mix of global challenges that could threaten even more forced displacement in the future,” Mr. Guterres said. “They range from multiple new conflict-related emergencies in world hotspots to bad governance, climate-induced environmental degradation that increases competition for scarce resources, and extreme price hikes that have hit the poor the hardest and are generating instability in many places.”
The number of refugees under UNHCR's responsibility rose from 9.9 to 11.4 million by the end of 2007. UNHCR also currently provides protection or assistance directly or indirectly to 13.7 internally displaced persons (IDPs) – up from 12.8 million in 2006.
In addition, the report lists other categories of concern to UNHCR, including stateless people, asylum-seekers, returned refugees, returned internally displaced, and “others.”
In all, it lists 31.7 million people entitled to UNHCR support, excluding 4.6 million Palestinian refugees helped by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Among refugees, the report notes that Afghans (around 3 million, mainly in Pakistan and Iran) and Iraqis (around 2 million, mainly in Syria and Jordan) accounted for nearly half of all refugees under UNHCR's care worldwide in 2007, followed by Colombians (552,000) in a refugee-like situation, Sudanese (523,000) and Somalis (457,000).
It says much of the increase in refugees in 2007 was a result of the volatile situation in Iraq. The top refugee-hosting countries in 2007 included Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Germany and Jordan.
Among the internally displaced, the report cites up to 3 million people in Colombia; 2.4 million in Iraq; 1.3 million in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); 1.2 million in Uganda; and 1 million in Somalia.
Some 647,200 individual applications for asylum or refugee status were submitted to governments and UNHCR offices in 154 countries last year – a 5 percent increase and the first rise in four years.
The report says the increase can primarily be attributed to the large number of Iraqis seeking asylum in Europe. By nationality, the individual claims included Iraqis (52,000), Somalis (46,100), Eritreans (36,000), Colombians (23,200); Russian Federation (21,800); Ethiopians (21,600) and Zimbabweans (20,700).
Top destination countries for individual asylum-seekers were the United States, South Africa, Sweden, France, the United Kingdom, Canada and Greece.
Some 731,000 refugees were able to go home under voluntary repatriation programs in 2007, including to Afghanistan (374,000), Southern Sudan (130,700), the DRC (60,000), Iraq (45,400) and Liberia (44,400). In addition, an estimated 2.1 million internally displaced people went home during the year.
Refugee resettlement referrals to third countries increased substantially in 2007, with UNHCR submitting 99,000 individuals for consideration by governments – the highest number in 15 years and an 83 per cent increase over the previous year.
But overall, less than one per cent of the world's refugees are resettled by third countries. By the end of the year, 75,300 refugees were admitted by 14 resettlement countries, including the United States (48,300), Canada (11,200), Australia (9,600), Sweden (1,800), Norway (1,100) and New Zealand (740).
The year also saw a decline of some 3 million people who had been considered stateless, primarily as a result of new legislation in Nepal providing citizenship to approximately 2.6 million people, as well as changes in Bangladesh. It is estimated that there are some 12 million stateless people worldwide.