The Bush/Blair ‘war on terror’ has made conditions for asylum-seekers tougher in many countries, the UN refugee agency has warned.
Speaking on World Refugee Day on Wednesday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) head Antonio Guterres said some nations had curbed immigration to the point where refugees were being excluded.
He insisted that refugees were not terrorists, but the victims of terror.
After a five-year fall, the number of refugees has risen again, by ten million, because of violence in Iraq and Somalia.
The UN estimates that nearly 44 million people have left their homes because of violence or persecution.
It says that some are forced abroad, many others are displaced within their own countries.
The war in Iraq alone has displaced an estimated four million people – two million inside and two million outside the country.
UNHCR, Guterres, warned: ‘The international community is not paying attention and is not giving enough support.’
Speaking in southern Sudan, Guterres added: ‘There are countries in which, especially after 9/11, there has been a growing concern with refugees and I think it’s important to say and to repeat they are not terrorists, they are the first victims of terror.
‘But in other countries, on the contrary, we are seeing an extremely generous approach in protection granted to refugees.’
He singled out Sweden and the Netherlands for being ‘extremely positive’ in relation to the plight of Iraqi refugees.
UNHCR said in a statement on Wednesday: ‘Today is World Refugee Day, a day when the UN refugee agency tries to focus worldwide attention on the plight of millions of refugees and displaced people around the world.
‘To mark the day, High Commissioner António Guterres is visiting South Sudan to witness the rapid changes in the nature of the refugee challenge in Africa.
‘Some 40 million people worldwide are uprooted by violence and persecution, and it is likely that the future will see more people on the move as a growing number of push factors build upon each other to create conditions for further forced displacement.
‘People are forced to seek refuge for increasingly interlinked reasons.
‘They do not just flee persecution and war, but also injustice, exclusion, environmental pressures, competition for scarce resources and the miseries caused by dysfunctional states.
‘The task facing the international community is to understand this new environment and to find ways to unlock the potential of refugees who have much to offer if they are given the opportunity to regain control over their lives.’
High Commissioner Guterres said: ‘Our greatest satisfaction comes from helping a refugee family to go home.
‘Their repatriation is a ray of hope in a strife-torn region.
‘Working together with our partners and with the support of our donors we have made a difference.
‘But we need to do more to help refugees once again become active players in society.’
The UN refugee agency announced on Tuesday that the number of refugees in the world has increased for the first time since 2002, largely as a result of the crisis in Iraq.
UNHCR said its ‘2006 Global Trends’ report ‘shows the number of refugees under the agency’s mandate rising last year by 14 per cent to almost ten million, the highest level since 2002.
‘At the same time, the share of other categories of people under the agency’s different mandates also grew sharply, in most cases as a result of improved registration systems and more accurate statistics.’
Guterres added: ‘As the number of those uprooted by persecution, intolerance and violence around the world increases, we must face the challenges and demands of a changing world, while remaining faithful to our mandate of defending the rights of refugees and other people we care for.
‘According to the UNHCR report, the increase in the number of refugees is largely due to the situation in Iraq, which by the end of last year had forced up to 1.5 million Iraqis to seek refuge in other countries, particularly Syria and Jordan.
‘In 2006, the main group of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate continued to be Afghans (2.1 million), followed by Iraqis (1.5 million), Sudanese (686,000), Somalis (460,000), and refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi (about 400,000 each).
‘UNHCR figures do not include some 4.3 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Occupied Territories, who fall under the mandate of a separate agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
‘If added, the total number of refugees under both agencies’ mandates is more than 14 million.
‘In addition to refugees, for a number of years UNHCR has also been helping specific populations of internally displaced people (IDPs).
‘These are people who have also fled their homes because of threats to their safety, but who have not crossed any internationally recognised borders.
‘At the end of 2006, the total number of conflict-related IDPs worldwide was estimated at 24.5 million by the Norwegian Refugee Council.
‘As part of a strengthened collaborative effort to address the needs of IDPs, the United Nations assigned specific sectoral functions to various UN agencies last year.
‘In that context, UNHCR assumed lead responsibility for protection, emergency shelter and camp coordination and management in IDP situations in a number of countries, including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Somalia.
‘At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced within their own countries by the conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste and Sudan.
‘By the end of 2006, the number of IDPs protected or assisted by UNHCR as part of the collaborative UN effort reached a record high of almost 13 million – more than half of the estimated IDP population in the world.
‘This is almost double the previous year’s figure and is the single biggest reason for the sharp increase in the overall number of people under UNHCR’s mandates – from 21 million in 2005 to almost 33 million last year.’
Commissioner Guterres said: ‘We are part of the collective response by the UN system and the broader humanitarian community to the plight of the internally displaced.
‘At the same time, faced with a situation like Darfur, the role of organisations such as ours is severely constrained.
‘That may seem intolerable, yet our desperation is nothing next to that of the millions of victims of forced displacement.’
UNHCR added: ‘Stateless people – those who do not have any nationality, and therefore in extreme cases do not officially exist – are another group that have benefitted from a more focused approach by UNHCR, in concert with host states and donors.
‘As a result of an ambitious survey of states, a more comprehensive view of the scale and complexity of this issue has been emerging.
‘By 2006, the total number of stateless people identified had more than doubled to 5.8 million.
‘This increase does not reflect new situations of statelessness but, rather, is the result of improved data coverage.’
Guterres said: ‘Paradoxically, big increases in the numbers of stateless people may represent a sign of improvement – rather than deterioration – in their situation.
‘Recognition that stateless people exist is a vital first step towards finding a solution to their predicament. And, indeed, after years of slow progress, an increasing number of states have implemented, or are seriously contemplating implementing, lasting solutions for some of the world’s forgotten stateless people.’