Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has termed the drop in the number of refugees under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) mandate as an “illusion.”
According to a recent annual 2008 report released by the UN Refugee Agency on June 16, 2009, the global refugee statistics represent a drop of about 700,000 refugees from 2007. However, there are concerns that a surge of displacements in 2009 not reflected in the report have already offset the decline. “The numbers are growing again. In 2009, we have already seen substantial new displacements, namely in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia,” said Guterres.
The “Global Trends” report indicates that there were some 42 million people forcibly uprooted from their homes worldwide in 2008. This includes 16 million refugees and asylum seekers and 26 million internally displaced people (IDP).
About two million refugees and IDP were able to return home in 2008, a decline from the year before. Refugee repatriation (604,000 persons) was down 17 percent. IDP returns (1.4 million persons) dropped by 30 percent. UNHCR touts repatriation as the most durable solution for refugees.
According to the report, “2008 experienced the second-lowest repatriation total in 15 years.” The report cites rising insecurity mainly in Afghanistan and Sudan as a contributing factor.
However, Guterres expressed optimism. “The number of resettled refugees is on the rise. This is a positive thing that is happening,” he said. The report indicates that the refugee population under the UNHCR’s mandate declined in 2008 as a result of voluntary repatriation and also due to “a downward revision in estimates of refugees and people in ‘refugee-like situations’ from Iraq and Colombia.” The 2008 refugee figure was 10.5 million, down from 11.4 in 2007.
Afghanistan has been the leading country of refugee origin for the past three decades. At least 6.4 million Afghans have sought international protection during that period. Iraq is second, with up to 1.9 million of its citizens having sought refuge in neighboring countries. Together the two countries account for almost half (45 percent) of all refugees under UNHCR care world-wide. Other countries of origin included Somalia (561,000), Sudan (419,000), Colombia (374,000) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (368,000).
According to the report, the UNHCR cares for about 25 million of the global total of uprooted people, including 14.4 million IDP, up from 13.7 million in 2007 and 10.5 million refugees. The other 4.7 million refugees are Palestinians under the UN Relief and Works Agency.
The report singled out Pakistan as having the largest number of refugees, 1.8 million in total. Most of this country’s refugees came from Afghanistan. Syria is second with 1.1 million and the Islamic Republic of Iran is third with 980,000 refugees.
Guterres noted that, “over 80 percent of the world’s refugees are hosted and supported by countries in the developing world.” According to the report, “these countries are making huge economic efforts” to carry the refugee burden. “If the number of refugees per 1 USD [Gross Domestic Product] GDP (PPP*) per capita is high, the relative contribution and effort made by countries compared to the national economy can be considered as high,” states the report.
In 2008, Pakistan hosted 733 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita. The Democratic Republic of Congo was second (496), followed by Tanzania (262), the Syrian Arab Republic (257) and Chad (230). Germany, at 26th place is the first developed country with 16 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita.
Guterres called for increased support from the international community. “I appeal to the international community to understand the dimension of the problem. Failure to deliver humanitarian assistance to these people can turn disastrous,” he said.
* purchasing power parity (PPP).