The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is urging the international community to do more to protect and care for refugees around the world.  The appeal comes as the agency commemorates World Refugee Day, which focuses on the plight of tens of millions of refugees and displaced people uprooted by conflict and persecution. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says people flee their homes not because they want to, but because they have to.  It reports there were more than 42 million refugees and internally displaced people worldwide by the end of 2008.  And, those numbers are continuing to grow.

Victims of conflict

The UNHCR says so far, this year, millions of people have been forced to flee their homes in conflict-ridden places such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia.  

And, it says tens of thousands of civilians continue to flee from daily atrocities perpetrated by armed militia in Africa, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond says victims of conflict and persecution are among the most vulnerable people on Earth.

"Refugees are not faceless statistics," he said. "They are real people just like us who through no fault of their own have lost everything.  Those who work with refugees are struggling more than ever to meet even their most basic needs."  

"Thus the theme of this year's World Refugee Day - 'Real People, Real Needs.'  The sobering reality is that there are substantial gaps in our ability to provide essentials such as shelter, health, education, nutrition, sanitation and protection from violence and abuse," he added. 

Redmond says the global economic crisis, growing xenophobia, climate change and the relentless outbreak of new conflicts threaten to worsen the already huge displacement problem.

He says more than 80 percent of the world's refugees and internally displaced people are in developing countries.  He says those countries that can least afford to care for refugees are hosting the overwhelming majority.

"The developed world needs to support those developing countries that are hosting so many refugees," said the UNHCR spokesman. "And, this puts the lie also to some of the outcry that you hear in industrialized countries about them being flooded with refugees and asylum seekers.  They are not, for the most part, flooding into the industrialized world.  For the most part, they are staying in their own regions and they want nothing more than a chance to go home." 

Plight of refugees

The UNHCR provides a snapshot of the dispiriting and difficult lives refugees endure in camps around the world.  For example, it notes mortality rates for refugee children from the Central African Republic and in some areas of Cameroon are seven times higher than the emergency level.

The U.N. refugee agency says that in Georgia, in Eastern Europe, people who have been internally displaced for 15 years continue to live in squalid, overcrowded collective centers that are cold, lack water and functioning sewage systems.

It says that in Thailand, in East Asia, more than 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Burma have lived for years in crowded camps.  And, this leads to domestic violence and other abuses.