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Report on Refugee Situation After September 11 - 2002-06-07

World-wide conflict and human rights abuses in countries around the world have led to an increase in the global number of refugees and internally-displaced people. In its annual World Refugee Survey, issued in Washington Thursday, the U.S. Committee for Refugees details the impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks on world-wide refugee movements.

The 290-page World Refugee Survey says there were nearly 15 million refugees world-wide last year and more than 22 million internally-displaced people.

Lavinia Limon, executive director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees, the group that authored the report, detailed one post-September 11 impact in the United States that she described as immediate and severe.

"The entire refugee admissions program was brought to a halt," she said. "Thousands of refugees who had been admitted for resettlement in the United States were stranded in places of danger. Many are still there. The program has since resumed, but at a much diminished level. Although the president signed a determination to bring 70,000 refugees into this country this federal fiscal year, at this rate, at this time, we have less than 15,000 people arrived."

The campaign against terrorism and the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan following September 11 made it no surprise that Afghans topped the 2001 list of uprooted people, a combination of refugees and those who have been internally-displaced.

Jeff Drumtra, senior policy analyst with the U.S. Committee for Refugees, says Afghanistan is not the only country that provided the world with refugees. "Afghanistan, of course, is at the top of the list, but there was also significant new population flight last year from Colombia, Indonesia, Angola, Congo-Kinshasa, Macedonia, Burundi, the Philippines and a number of other countries," he said.

Mr. Drumtra says the crises in other countries did not get much media attention because they were overshadowed by the events in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees' director, Bill Frelick, says the lack of attention to trouble spots, especially in Africa, has been directly reflected in the amount of money spent last year by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"In east Africa, the horn of Africa, there is an eight million dollar shortfall in UNHCR's budget where there are a million refugees," he said. "In central Africa, a seven million dollar shortfall. And in west Africa, a five million dollar shortfall."

Mr. Frelick added that some countries are using their anti-terrorism campaigns as an excuse not to give adequate treatment to refugees. "I think generally what we have seen is that September 11, the rhetoric of September 11 and the war on terrorism has given a free pass to countries such as Russia on places like Chechnya, where you can declare war on terrorism, and you can ignore the refugees and ignore human rights abuses that cause refugees, or are directed against refugees," he said.

Mr. Frelick called money spent on refugees an investment into stability and an investment in the future. "Refugees are not simply a humanitarian burden, like earthquake victims or victims of tornadoes or hurricanes, as compelling as they may be, but they are victims of conflict and persecution," he said. "And as such, they are a clear warning that the social contract has gone awry, an indication of failed states and other threats to peace and security."

One of the study's conclusions is that attending to the needs of refugees and returning them to secure and stable environments is the first step in restoring order to a disordered world.