The U.N. refugee agency's annual conference opens in Geneva on Monday. Representatives from the UNHCR's 76-nation governing body will attend the week-long meeting to set the work agenda for the coming year. They will focus on the needs and actions to be taken on behalf of some 32 million refugees, internally displaced, and stateless people that come under the care and protection of the UNHCR. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
The conference will be asked to approve a budget of $1.8 billion for the coming year. This large amount of money reflects the growing needs of tens of millions of people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution.
U.N. refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, tells VOA, refugee and asylum issues have become more complex in today's world.
"You have got environmental degradation which is forcing people to go on the move," he said. "You have got increasing competition for scarce resources, which can result in conflicts which then in displacement. In Darfur, Chad would be an example of that among other things.
The UNHCR now cares for some 11 million refugees as well as 14 million internally displaced people. They, unlike refugees have not crossed international borders, but remain uprooted in their own countries.
Redmond says there are a number of protracted refugee situations that are of great concern. He says millions of uprooted people have been living in camps for decades with no prospect of going home.
He says U.N. High Commissioner, Antonio Guterres, has launched a special initiative, which he will discuss during the upcoming conference, aimed at finding solutions for five protracted refugee situations.
These include Eritrean refugees in eastern Sudan, Burundian refugees in Tanzania, Croatian and Bosnian refugees in Serbia, Rohinga refugees in Bangladesh and Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan.
He says the UNHCR also is concerned about overall migration patterns in the world. He says refugees often are denied asylum because they are confused with migrants who go to other countries for economic reasons.
"One of the major migration patterns we see, of course, is from Africa across the Mediterranean toward Europe as well as using other routes," Redmond said. "Every week, we hear about people from sub-Saharan Africa, for example, getting in boats and going toward the Canary Islands. Just about every week now, we also hear about Africans dying in the Gulf of Aden, Africans fleeing the Horn of Africa, particularly Somalia."
While major concerns persist, UNHCR spokesman Redmond says there also are many successes.
Last year, he notes more than 700,000 refugees and two million internally displaced people went home, many from the Great Lake Region of Africa.
Since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2002, he notes more than four million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan and Iran.