‘At the end of 2009, some 43.3 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced due to conflict and persecution, the highest number since the mid-1990s,’ says a report just published.
‘This included 15.2 million refugees, 27.1 million IDPs (internally-displaced people) and close to one million individuals whose asylum application had not yet been adjudicated by the end of the reporting period,’ adds the 2009 Global Trends report, published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
‘The total number of refugees and IDPs under UNHCR’s care remained high, standing at 26 million by end-year,’ the report continues.
The number of IDPs protected or assisted by the UNHCR rose to an ‘unprecedented’ 15.6 million.
The report says: ‘The tragic situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, and Somalia mainly accounted for the overall increase of 1.2 million IDPs under UNHCR’s care.
‘In addition, UNHCR estimated that some 12 million people were stateless, with the Office having reliable statistics for some 6.6 million of them.
‘Humanitarian crises and the prevailing political situation in a number of countries not only uprooted millions of women, men, girls and boys but prevented the return of refugees and IDPs as well.’
In addition to the forced displacement of people by conflict and war, the UNHCR was involved in several humanitarian crises caused by natural disasters. (This does not include events this year like the Haiti earthquake, in which 200,000 people died and many thousands more were made homeless, forced to huddle together in makeshift camps).
‘Although displacement resulting from natural disasters is growing in numbers and complexity, it is beyond the scope of this report,’ the UNHCR states.
The report indicates that refugees are increasingly being repatriated against their will.
It also says that among refugees and people in refugee-like situations, 41 per cent were children.
On the issue of the 27 million-plus people internally displaced within their native countries (IDPs), the UNHCR has become increasingly involved, as part of a ‘broader engagement’ by the United Nations and other agencies.
By the end of 2009, the total population under the UNHCR’s responsibility stood at 36.5 million.
By the end of 2009, there were an estimated 10.4 million refugees under the UNHCR’s responsibility, including some 1.6 million people in refugee-like situations.
The number of IDPs protected and/or assisted by the UNHCR was the highest on record, a total of 15.6 million IDPs, including 129,000 people in ‘IDP-like’ situations, who were receiving humanitarian assistance with the help of the UN body.
The report says: ‘While 2.2 million IDPs were able to return home during the year, the highest in at least a decade, only 251,500 refugees repatriated voluntarily, the lowest level since 1990.
‘The asylum-seeker population, that is people whose asylum applications had not yet been adjudicated by the end of the reporting period, increased to 983,000.
‘During 2009, UNHCR identified some 6.6 million stateless persons in 60 countries but estimated the total number of stateless persons worldwide at almost double that number, or some 12 million people.’
‘There are an additional 411,000 individuals who do not fall into any of the above categories (known as “other groups or people of concern”) but who received protection and/or assistance from UNHCR based on humanitarian or other special grounds.’
The report continues: ‘Overall, decreases in the refugee population in some countries were offset by mass outflows in others due to renewed or continuing conflict, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.’
The report states: ‘Developing countries hosted 8.3 million refugees, or 80 per cent of the global refugee population.
‘The 49 least developed countries provided asylum to 1.9 million refugees.’
The report adds: ‘The available statistical evidence demonstrates that most refugees flee to neighbouring countries, remaining in their region of origin.
‘The major refugee generating regions hosted on average between 76 and 91 per cent of refugees from within the same region.’
More than one-third (37 per cent) of all refugees were residing in countries covered by UNHCR’s Asia and Pacific region, with three quarters of them being Afghans.
Sub-Saharan Africa was host to one-fifth of all refugees, primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Sudan.
The Middle East and North Africa region hosted 19 per cent of the world’s refugees, mainly from Iraq, while Europe’s share was only 16 per cent.
The Americas region received eight per cent of refugees, with Colombians constituting the largest number.
‘Unfortunately,’ says the Global Trends report, ‘renewed armed conflict and human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia led to new refugee outflows and the movement of 277,000 people primarily to the Republic of the Congo (94,000) and Kenya (72,500).’
An estimated 5.5 million refugees were in a ‘protracted situation’ by the end of 2009.
Pakistan was again the country with the largest number of refugees (1.7 million), nearly all from its war-torn neighbour Afghanistan.
Iran hosted slightly over one million refugees, almost all Afghans.
Syria was host to 1.05 million Iraqi refugees according to government estimates.
Germany and Jordan reported 594,000 and 451,000 refugees, respectively, at the year’s end.
Kenya hosted 360,000 refugees.
‘Afghanistan has been the leading country of origin of refugees for the past three decades, with up to 6.4 million of its citizens having sought international protection during peak years,’ says the report.
‘As of the end of 2009, close to 2.9 million Afghan were still refugees.
‘One out of four refugees in the world is from Afghanistan.
‘Even though Afghan refugees could be found in 71 asylum countries worldwide in 2009, 96 per cent of them were located in Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran alone.
‘Iraqis were the second largest group, with an estimated 1.8 million having sought refuge, mainly in neighbouring countries.
‘Afghan and Iraqi refugees account for almost half (45 per cent) of all refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility worldwide,’ says the report – a real indictment of the criminal wars launched by the US and UK governments against those countries, which continue to this day.
Somalis constitute the third largest refugee group under UNHCR’s responsibility with 678,000 persons at the end of 2009, an increase of 117,000 over 2008.
‘Security and humanitarian conditions in Somalia continued to steadily deteriorate and were particularly acute in the central and southern areas of the country,’ the report says.
‘The crisis was further compounded by severe drought conditions, poverty, food insecurity and periodic heavy flooding in the Horn of Africa.
‘Some 132,000 Somalis fled their country during 2009, primarily to Kenya (72,500), Yemen (32,000), Ethiopia (23,600), and Djibouti (3,700).
‘This is in addition to the almost 300,000 people who were newly displaced within Somalia during the year.’
Similarly, says the report, there were 456,000 refugees under UNHCR mandate from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
‘More than 144,000 people fled the country during 2009 alone,’ the report says.
Comparing ‘the relative contribution and effort made by countries compared to the national economy’, showed that it was Pakistan, a poor country, that was doing the most.
‘The first developed country was Germany at 26th place.
The report found: ‘During 2009, at least 922,500 individual applications for asylum or refugee status were submitted to governments or UNHCR offices in 159 countries or territories.’
In industrialised countries figures have remained stable.
The report says: ‘Out of the provisional total of 922,500 asylum claims, an estimated 836,100 were initial applications, lodged in first instance procedures, and 86,400 claims were submitted on appeal or with courts.’
UNHCR offices registered some 119,100 applications.
‘South Africa was again the main destination for new asylum-seekers worldwide, with more than 222,000 asylum claims registered in 2009 – almost as many as were lodged in the 27 Member States of the European Union combined,’ the report notes.
‘Zimbabweans accounted for two thirds of all claims submitted in 2009 (149,500 applications).’
The United States of America received only 47,900 applications for asylum.
France received 42,100 claims and the United Kingdom 29,800.
‘Major conflicts such as those in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo show no signs of being resolved,’ said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres.
‘Conflicts that had appeared to be ending or were on the way to being resolved, such as in southern Sudan or in Iraq, are stagnating.
‘As a result last year was not a good year for voluntary repatriation. In fact, it was the worst in twenty years.’
The UNHCR said the report confounds the notion that refugees are inundating industrialised nations.