The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, is calling for new strategies and greater international commitment to deal with increasing numbers of people fleeing their homes. At the start of the UNHCR's annual refugee conference, Guterres told delegates protection and assistance must be given to people whether they are fleeing from persecution or from poverty. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the conference in Geneva.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres says he is worried about the increasing numbers of people that are fleeing from conflicts around the world. After several years of steady decline, he says the number of refugees worldwide is, once again, going up. Last year, he says nearly 10 million people sought asylum from war, violence and persecution.
He says the upward trend is continuing this year, provoked by crises such as Iraq and the Horn of Africa. For example, he notes Iraqis inside and outside their country make up the biggest single group of displaced. He says they represent the largest urban refugee group the organization has ever dealt with.
"The heavy burden the Syrian Arab Republic and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan have borne to accommodate so many Iraqis, and its dramatic impact on the economy and society, underscore the pressing needs for greater international solidarity. Their action places them on the list of very generous countries of the developing world-Pakistan, Iran, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Chad, Guinea, Zambia and Ecuador, to name just a few-which have hosted outsize numbers of refugees," he said.
Besides caring for refugees, the High Commissioner notes his agency also helps an estimated 20 million internally displaced people in 23 countries. In all, the UNHCR protects and assists nearly 33 million people worldwide.
He says forced displacement is not new. But, what is different today is, what he calls, the complexity of displacement. While many people are fleeing their homes in search of asylum, he says millions of others are forced to move because of extreme poverty, environmental degradation and climate change.
"What is new is that the various causes are ever more related, the people on the move harder to tell apart. Each cause contributes to the other," continued Guterres. "In Darfur, for instance, a Janjaweed attack on an African village may be motivated by the political crisis. But, the results resemble that of another emerging pattern, a water shortage which sets herders against farmers."
Guterres says there are international laws that protect people fleeing from persecution, but similar protection or assistance is not available for people who are hungry and cannot support their families.
He says some form of temporary shelter must be found for people who will face extreme deprivation if they are forced to return to the homes they fled.