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Benin Highlighted on World Refugee Day

This year’s World Refugee Day marks a 26-year low in the number of refugees globally. That, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The UN agency says the world is also experiencing the smallest exodus of new refugees crossing national borders in almost three decades. In the past three years more than 6 million refugees have been repatriated. But not all the news is good. The UNHCR says the number of “internally displaced people” in Darfur, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries is on the rise. Over the past year alone, the number of IDP’s in 16 countries has increased to over one million. This contrasts with a smaller number of IDP’s in 13 countries at the end of 2004.

Sarah Petrin is the Director of Government Relations for the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. She told English to Africa reporter Howard Lesser there have been positive examples of migrant treatment by host African nations. She cited the example of Togolese refugees in Benin.

“We grade our nations on their treatment of refugees, and Benin was the only country to get all A grades this year because they’re hosting of a number of Togolese refugees was quite exemplary in that they let the refugees work and have freedom of residence and movement inside the country.”

The displacement of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese by attacks in Sudan’s western Darfur region has dramatized the plight of refugees. However, Petrin says even greater public awareness and humanitarian support are needed to pressure authorities in Khartoum to end the persecution.

“I think for the American people, this has been a very educational year because the American people and people all around the world have been very concerned about the people of Darfur and their situation. And we’ve seen in spite of political pressure, in spite of an increase in humanitarian assistance, that people in Darfur are very much at risk of persecution. One thing that’s important for people to understand is that this is targeted political persecution on the part of the Sudanese government, and just like we see with places like North Korea and China and Russia, it is going to take a persistent and long-term effort for human rights advocates to begin to make a change of the situation.”

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