News / Africa

Number of World Refugees and Displaced People Highest in 15 Years

Syrian refugees are seen in a camp, in Boynuyogun, Turkey, Tuesday, June 14, 2011.
Syrian refugees are seen in a camp, in Boynuyogun, Turkey, Tuesday, June 14, 2011.
Lisa Schlein

A new report finds 43.7-million people worldwide were forcibly displaced by conflict by the end of 2010, the highest number in the past 15 years.  The U.N. refugee agency, which has just released its annual report on Global Trends 2010, assists more than 25 million of these refugees and internally displaced people.

The numbers quoted are huge and they are all going in the wrong direction.  The statistics show more people are fleeing their homes because of conflict.  At the same time, fewer refugees and internally displaced people are returning home than in past years, and fewer still are finding places of resettlement in third countries.

The report notes this is a bad sign, saying it shows the search for durable solutions to long-lasting refugee problems is foundering.  

UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Alexander Aleinikoff, says more than seven-million refugees have been living in exile for more than five years, some for more than 30 years.  The prospects of their going home in the near future, he said, are dim.

“The numbers of resettled refugees is down. Only about one percent of the world refugees or less than one percent are resettled each year. This year, it will be under 100,000 people.  That is out of more than 10 million.  The number of returns, of people returning home, are down.  In 2010, under 200,000 people returned home, which is the lowest amount in a decade," he said.

Aleinikoff said the causes of displacement are not going away.  This year, he notes, new conflicts have broken out in North Africa, in Ivory Coast, Syria and Sudan.  In addition, he says millions of people around the world are homeless because of natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

He says there is an uneven distribution of the world’s displaced.  Most of the problems occur in poor countries and it is poor countries, he says, that shoulder the greatest burden of caring for these destitute millions. “Eighty percent of the world’s refugees are in ... developing countries ... and sometimes, it seems the loudest objections to refugees and asylum seekers come from regions that do not shoulder the biggest burden of accepting and hosting refugees," he said.

The report notes Pakistan, Iran, and Syria have the largest refugee populations.  Pakistan hosts nearly two-million refugees, while Iran and Syria host around one-million each.

The UNHCR study finds anti-refugee sentiment is rising in many industrialized nations due largely to the economic crisis and religious and cultural differences.  As a consequence, worrying misperceptions abound.  It says many wealthy countries fear they are being flooded by refugees and are shutting their doors to them.

Refugee officials say these fears are vastly overblown and the reverse is true.  They note the data shows the number of asylum claims in 2010 actually has gone down slightly or remained stable in most countries across Europe.

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