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UN Predicts More Refugees in Next Decade

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres (file photo)
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres (file photo)
NEW YORK - The United Nations refugee agency said Thursday that the world will see increasing numbers of refugees during the next 10 years as the factors causing mass population flight grow.

A new report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says human displacement caused by conflict is becoming compounded by several factors. They include climate change, population growth, urbanization, food insecurity, water scarcity and resource competition. All of these causes, says the U.N. agency, interact with each other, increasing instability and conflict, and forcing people to move.

Antonio Guterres, head of the U.N. refugee agency, told a news conference that new crises last year resulted in the highest number of new refugees in the last decade. In addition, he said, 70 percent of the refugees protected by the High Commissioner for Refugees -- plus the Palestinian refugees - are in what Guterres called a protracted refugee situation - being displaced for more than five years.

“So, more refugees - more refugees for a longer period of time, more difficulties to reach out to them and to support them," said Guterres.

Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, said that during various crises in 2011 and this year, neighboring countries, most in the developing world, kept their borders open to fleeing refugees. At the same time, he added, there is a debate in the industrialized world that tends to restrict asylum policies and close borders to refugees. Guterres pointed to what he called alliances between some populist politicians and some irresponsible media that create an environment in which xenophobia and racism tend to develop.

Guterres said the number of people internally displaced by force or persecution within their own countries is larger than the number of refugees escaping their countries. He said the growing number of refugees reflects a significant increase in the number of new conflicts.

“The most dramatic characteristic of that is that those conflicts are unpredictable," he said. "Things happen in places where nobody was expecting them to happen or, if one looks at the future, it’s very difficult to predict where we are going to have the next crisis. It is clear that they will come because they are coming almost every month. It’s very difficult to predict where they will come.”

Guterres said there are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems. The solution, he added, is always political. And according to Guterres, there is less and less capacity in the world to find solutions through conflict prevention and conflict resolution.