Refugee numbers rise due to displacement in Iraq and Africa

The number of global refugees has risen for the first time in five years largely because of violence in Iraq, according to a recent United Nations report.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report, '2006 Global Trends', announced that nearly 10 million people were driven from their home countries because of violence, poverty and natural disasters in 2006. These figures show a 14 per cent increase from 2005, when the number of global refugees hit a 26-year low at 8.4 million.

The global refugee count has not been this high since 2002, when the UN reported 10.6 million refugees worldwide.

The report does not include 4.3 million Palestinian refugees displaced since 1948 because of conflict with Israel. Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Occupied Territories fall under the jurisdiction of another agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East.

The UN report cites 1.2 million Iraqi refugees, the bulk of whom end up in Jordan or Syria, as the main cause for the increase of global refugees during the past year. The number of Iraqi refugees quintupled in 2006.

In addition, a large number of Iraqi refugees are receiving little to no help from UNHCR assistance programmes. In Jordan and Syria, a fraction of a per cent of refugees benefit from UNHCR assistance.

About half of all global refugees receive UNHCR aid, mainly in developing countries where UNHCR is operationally active. The report notes that levels of international assistance vary greatly and reflect the opportunities for integration and self-reliance in each individual country.

“As the number of those uprooted by persecution, intolerance and violence around the world increases, we must face the challenges and demands of a changing world, while remaining faithful to the rights of refugees and other people we care for”, said High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

Although Iraqi refugees sharply increased during the year, they are only the second-largest refugee group. Afghan refugees still top the list with more than 2 million.

In addition to Iraq, the report mentions conflicts in Lebanon, East Timor, Sudan and Sri Lanka as factors in the rising number of global refugees in 2006.

Sudanese refugees
During the last year there were more than 680,000 refugees from Sudan, 460,000 refugees from Somalia, and 400,000 refugees each from the Congo and Burundi.
(read about Somalia here )

According to the report, the number of internally displaced and stateless peoples also increased in the past year.

Not legally defined as refugees under international law, internally displaced people have fled their homes but not crossed any internationally recognised borders; stateless people have no nationality.

In 2006, the number of conflict-related, internally displaced people rose to 24.5 million according to the Norwegian Refugee Council. About 1.8 million Iraqis displaced by the violent conflict boosted this increase.

The number of stateless people doubled last year to 5.8 million, mainly due to improved data and classification.

“Paradoxically, big increases in the numbers of stateless people may represent a sign of improvement — rather than a deterioration — in their situation”, said Guterres. “Recognition that stateless people exist is a vital first step towards finding a solution to their predicament.”

Some global refugees have found solutions. Western and Southern Africa have experienced the largest reductions in refugees due to successful voluntary repatriations to Liberia and Angola.

Others not able to return home often hope to gain asylum in new countries.  

Europe saw the highest number of asylum applications last year with nearly 300,000 claims.

But even if asylum is granted, many still face numerous challenges with health, integration and self-sufficiency.

According to SPIRASI, an organisation that offers help to asylum-seekers in Ireland, 10 per cent to 35 per cent of refugees settled in Europe have experienced torture or other serious violence in their pre-migratory environments. SPIRASI's Centre for the Care of Survivors of Torture provides counselling, physical therapies and medical assessments free of charge to survivors of torture.