Accessibility links

Global Refugee, Asylum Seekers Total 12 Million - 2004-05-24

The latest World Refugee Survey issued by the U.S. Committee for Refugees estimates the global total of refugees and asylum seekers now reaches nearly 12 million. The survey this year highlights the dilemma for more than seven million refugees who are languishing in third-country camps or settlements while they wait to be resettled or repatriated.

The World Refugee Survey this year focuses on millions of refugees who have been confined to camps or settlements for more than ten years, in what is called refugee warehousing.

Gregory Chen is policy director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees. He says refugee warehousing violates the 1951 Refugee Convention, which says legal refugees should be allowed to earn wages, own property and travel freely.

"Last June USCR analysts visited several countries and documented how many refugees cannot work, cannot leave camps where they live, where most do these things illegally despite the fact that international law guarantees them the right to employment and freedom of movement," he said.

Mr. Chen says many refugees are located in remote and often dangerous border areas, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and attacks by criminals or militias. He cites Myanmar refugee camps in Thailand as an example.

Mr. Chen acknowledges that resolving the refugee problem is a long-term challenge that relies on resettlement, repatriation or integration in the host country. But he says the international community needs short-term solutions to address the problem.

"Even if the United States and other countries that do major resettlement programs were able to maximize the goals that we set, in the U.S. it's 70 thousand a year, we're never going to resolve the needs of all those who are warehoused," he said. "So other solutions must be found."

The USCR is campaigning for more creative approaches to the refugee dilemma and a commitment to abide by the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The 43rd annual World Refugee Survey shows more than one fourth of the world's refugees are found in Africa. More than half of them have fled conflict in four countries - Sudan, Congo-Kinshasa, Liberia and Burundi. Last year, the largest number of refugees fled fighting in Liberia and Sudan.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees estimates three out of four African refugees have been languishing in camps for more than five years.

According to the survey totals, the West Bank and Gaza, Iran, Pakistan, Syria and Tanzania together host more than 40 percent of the world's refugee population. Iran and Pakistan together topped the list of refugee host countries last year with nearly three million Afghan refugees.

On a more positive note, the survey shows a slow but steady decline in the world refugee population, down from 13 million to under 12 million last year.

More than 600,000 Afghan refugees were voluntarily returned home last year from Iran and Pakistan. Thousands of refugees also were voluntarily repatriated to their homes in Angola, Burundi, Iraq and Sri Lanka among others.