More and more refugees worldwide
Published on 16. June 2008 at

Geneva/London – At the end of 2007 there were 11.4 million refugees around the world (not counting 4.6 million Palestinian refugees, who are helped by the UN organisation UNRWA) and 26 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), people who have been driven from their homes by conflicts or persecution. This is the conclusion of the annual report of the United Nations refugee commission, the UNHCR, which was published on Tuesday.

Statistics for refugees around the world in 2007, compiled with data from 150 countries, reveal an increase in both groups with respect to 2006 (when there were 9.9 million refugees and 24.4 million IDPs).

"After a five-year decline in the number of refugees between 2001 and 2005, we have now seen two years of increases, and that’s a concern. And we are now faced with a complex mix of global challenges that could threaten even more forced displacement in the future," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres as he presented the annual statistics. Guterres mentioned the new conflict-related emergencies, bad governance, scarce resources and extreme price hikes that have hit the poor the hardest and are generating instability in many places, warning that the situation could become even more critical.

The report indicates that the increase which has been noted is partly due to the situation in Iraq. At the end of 2007 there were 2.4 million IDPs there alone (at the beginning of 2007 the figure was 1.8 million). Somalia also records a steep increase, from 400,000 to a total of one million. However, the country with the highest number of IDPs is Colombia (up to 3 million). Among refugees, the report notes that Afghans form the largest group (around 3 million), followed by Iraqis (around 2 million), Colombians (552,000), Sudanese (523,000) and Somalis (457,000).

In addition to refugees and internally displaced persons, the UNHCR statistics also encompass stateless people and asylum seekers, as well as returned refugees. The sum total of all people entitled to support from the UNHCR last year was 31.7 million.

The top refugee-hosting country in the world was Pakistan (2 million refugees). This was followed by Syria (1.5 million) Iran (964,000) Germany (579,000) and Jordan (500,000). Worldwide, last year there were 647,200 individual applications for asylum - a 5% increase on the previous year. This represented the first increase for five years. The main reason for this is the increasing number of Iraqis requesting asylum in Europe. Most applications for asylum were made in the USA, South Africa, Sweden, France, Great Britain, Canada and Greece.

The good news from the UNHCR report was that refugee resettlement referrals to third countries increased substantially in 2007. The UNHCR submitting 99,000 individuals who could not remain in their first country of refuge for consideration by other governments – the highest number in 15 years. Thus in the year 2007, 75,300 refugees - many from Burma, Burundi, Somalia, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan - were given new homes in third countries. After voluntary repatriation and integration in the asylum-giving land, referrals to third countries represented the third permanent solution for refugees.

Last year a total of 731,000 refugees returned to their home countries within the framework of aid programmes, mainly to Afghanistan (371,000) southern Sudan (131,700) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (60,000).

A number of stateless people declined last year to approximately 3 million. The main reason for this was a new law according to which about 2.6 million people in Nepal were given citizenship. The total number of stateless people throughout the world is estimated at approximately 12 million.

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