Protracted conflicts around the globe are driving up refugee totals and creating new populations who need to be resettled in other countries, said United Nations refugee chief Antonio Guterres.
And in an address to his UNHCR agency’s governing executive committee, he called on the international community to offer broader and better protection for the some 43 million people driven from their homes by local or cross-border warfare.
“We are witnessing the creation of a number of quasi-permanent, global refugee populations,” said the former prime minister of Portugal, citing the experience of Afghanistan and Somalia as examples.
The year 2009, which saw a world total of 15 million refugees, was the worst ever in terms of the numbers who returned home voluntarily, mainly because conflicts were becoming more intractable and peace more difficult to achieve. In addition, there are some 27 million people who have been forced to flee their homes but are still living inside their own countries, according to the refugee chief.
In UN terminology, refugees are those who have fled across borders because of fighting and natural disaster, like Afghans living in camps in Pakistan and Iran and Iraqis who have taken refuge in countries like Syria and Jordan. Those who have not crossed international borders are termed internally displaced, or IDPs, and are in principle supposed to be the responsibility of their national governments.
Guterres said over half the refugees for which the UNHCR is responsible — just over 10 million — were caught up in protracted conflicts, and most of them were living in developing countries which could least afford to support them. Some 5 million more refugees are Palestinians who fled their homes after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and are living in camps across the Middle East under the protection of another UN agency, UNRWA.
“We need to increase international solidarity and burden sharing. A better understanding and recognition by the international community of the efforts of host countries is absolutely necessary,” Guterres declared. He said there was a huge gap between the demand for resettlement in other countries from refugees who had given up hopes of returning to their homes and the available places offered, mainly by richer countries.
“UNHCR estimates that as many as 800,000 refugees need resettlement, yet the number of places available annually is only 10 percent of that,” said Guterres, whose 60-year-old agency is funded by voluntary contributions from U.N. members.