UN refugee chief urges help for 6 million long-term displaced

10 December 2008

The top United Nations refugee official has called on the world to do more to help nearly 6 million long-term refugees, who have spent years and sometimes decades in exile, often in the poorest countries in Africa and Asia.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), António Guterres, said there were at least 30 long-term refugee situations around the world that had lasted five years or more.

“The burden of hosting these refugees falls almost exclusively to developing states,” he said today at the opening session of a two-day conference on protracted refugee situations, taking place in Geneva. “It is important to recognise that the international community as a whole has not done enough to share that burden.”

Guterres said that once the media spotlight turned away from refugee emergencies and international attention faded, the displaced people could go unnoticed for years.

He added that much of the pressure fell on some of the poorest countries in the world, and hailed the example of Tanzania, whose Prime Minister, Mizengo Kayanza Peter Pinda, joined him at the conference podium. Tanzania has offered local integration, including naturalization and citizenship, to most of the Burundian refugees who fled their homeland in 1972 and who wish to remain in the country. Some 175,000 refugees stand to benefit from this programme, while others have opted to return to Burundi.

For his part, Prime Minister Pinda called on the international community to recognise the impact of protracted refugee situations on host countries, including the over-exploitation of natural resources, environmental degradation, strains on social services and the spread of small arms and insecurity.

 

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