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Refugees Continue to be Unwelcome, Says UNHCR


The United Nations refugee agency, unhcr, says refugees continue to be unwelcome in countries around the world, despite a drop in the number of people seeking asylum. A new report by the UNHCR shows the global number of refugees has dropped from around 12 million last year to just over 10 million this year.

The U.N. agency says the drop in refugee numbers was because of the return of nearly two million Afghan refugees from Pakistan and Iran last year, after the fall of the Taleban regime. In addition, the report says, hundreds of thousands of other refugees returned home during the year to Angola, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia and East Timor.

Despite this, UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville says, many countries continue to harden their attitudes toward asylum-seekers. He says asylum recently has become a hot political topic in many European countries.

He acknowledges that there are some legitimate concerns about the way migration is taking place. He says many people are smuggled into Europe, others misuse the system by falsely portraying themselves as asylum-seekers. And, he says, the problem is sometimes made worse by unscrupulous journalists and politicians.

"It has ceased to be a humanitarian issue in many respects, and become a highly politicized issue," he said. "And, like many politicized issues, it has become distorted in the process."

The UNHCR report shows, last year, nearly 600,000 people sought asylum in 37, mostly industrialized, countries, in Europe, North America, Asia and Oceania. This is a slight drop from the previous year.

The United Kingdom received the largest number of asylum claims, followed by the United States and Germany. The report says Asia continues to host the largest refugee population, and Africa the second largest.

The U.N. refugee agency says better management could resolve many of the asylum problems. Mr. Colville says one way to improve the global asylum system would be for rich countries to support refugees and improve resources in their original host countries, usually poor developing countries.

"So, make it so they do not actually need to move on or want to move on to Europe, or anywhere else," said Rupert Colville. "And, also look much more effectively at finding solutions to their situation, while they are in their regions, and not let it fester on for 10 years, 20 years sometimes even 30 years."

To do this, the UNHCR says, rich nations should increase development assistance to the poorer countries of asylum. This would boost self-reliance and reduce the pressure on people to seek asylum further afield.

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