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Women, Children Make Up Majority of Refugees, Displaced Persons

In its annual survey, the U.S. Committee for Refugees lists more than 13 million people as refugees and asylum seekers and nearly 22 million as internally displaced persons. The report says conflict and human rights abuses last year added more than four million people to that total. The report's authors criticized the U.S. and other governments for increasingly restricted access for refugees, leaving many in limbo for years.

The executive director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees says six out of 10 refugees are women and children. Lavinia Limon underlined that behind the statistics are countless stories of human suffering. And, she said, the situation is getting worse, not better.

"According to international law, the durable solution is clearly repatriation when it is safe to go home, perhaps resettlement in place in the country of first asylum and perhaps third-country resettlement," she said. "What we see increasingly is that refugees are not given any of those solutions, but in fact are warehoused around the world. So, in fact, generations of people are growing up in refugee camps, with their lives in limbo and no hope for their future."

Ms. Limon criticizes a trend in the United States and Europe to restrict access for asylum seekers as part of their war against terrorism.

She says the U.S. government resettled only 27,000 asylum seekers last year, the lowest number in three decades and less than half the total admitted in the year preceding the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

"We would like to point out that refugees are in fact fleeing terror," she emphasized. "They are not terrorists."

The refugee report highlights the steady increase of refugees fleeing conflict and persecution in more than one dozen countries in Africa and Asia, and the sharp increase of displaced persons fleeing conflict in Colombia. The annual survey notes an increasing number of countries forcibly returning or closing their doors to refugees, including China's rejection of North Korean refugees, Cambodia's forced return of Vietnamese Montagnards, and Guinea's rejection of refugees fleeing conflicts in Ivory Coast and Liberia.

"The U.S. and its allies, in its overthrow of the Taleban in Afghanistan, paved the way for the repatriation of 1.8 million Afghans, some of whom had been out of the country for more than 20 years," said Ms. Limon, noting some positive developments. "It was the largest, fastest UNHCR-assisted repatriation in more than three decades. In addition, some 900,000 displaced Angolans and refugees were able to return home after the death of Jonas Savimbi and the subsequent peace accord between the government and the rebels."

The survey also notes that an end to civil wars in Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone also led to the repatriation of several hundred thousand refugees.

The U.S. refugee committee's world survey provides both statistics on refugees and information about government policies affecting their movement in more than 130 countries around the world.