Global Increase in the Number of Refugees and IDPs

Where the Refugees Come From

Cross-posted from The Global Sociology Blog.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released yesterday its figures (full report) regarding the global numbers of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs):

“UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres expressed concern Tuesday about the growing number of refugees worldwide after an annual survey said there were 11.4 million refugees and 26 million others displaced internally by conflict or persecution at the end of 2007. “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,” Guterres said in London. (…)

“We are now faced with a complex mix of global challenges that could threaten even more forced displacement in the future. They range from multiple new conflict-related emergencies in world hotspots to bad governance, climate-induced environmental degradation that increases competition for scarce resources, and extreme price hikes that have hit the poor the hardest and are generating instability in many places.””

The number of refugees and IDPs increased by 2.5 million this year compared to last year. The UNHCR provides relief for approximately 14 million people.

So who are these millions of people? Unsurprisingly, we found roughly 3 million Afghans in Pakistan and Iran, 2 million Iraqis in Syria and Jordan. Both countries account for almost half of the world’s refugees. They are followed by Colombians (552,000), Sudanese (523,000) and Somalis (457,000). At the same time, the top refugee-hosting countries in 2007 included Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Germany and Jordan.

As for the IDPs, the order may be different but the countries are roughly the same: 3 million people in Colombia; 2.4 million in Iraq; 1.3 million in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; 1.2 million in Uganda; and 1 million in Somalia.

The UNHCR also reported a 5% increase in applications for asylums. Most of that increase comes from Iraqis trying to obtain political asylum in Europe (good luck with that! European countries have gotten less and less generous in the political asylum departments).

There is some good news though:

“Some 731,000 refugees were able to go home under voluntary repatriation programmes in 2007, including to Afghanistan (374,000), Southern Sudan (130,700), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (60,000), Iraq (45,400) and Liberia (44,400). In addition, an estimated 2.1 million internally displaced people went home during the year.”

For those who cannot go home, the UNHCR tries to find long-term resettlements solutions in third countries. There are more applications but not that many successes, only 1% of refugees are resettled in third countries. And as the New York Times notes, the burden of receiving refugees is shouldered by poorer countries rather than rich ones. But it is a problem because a large population of refugees can be a source of instability for the receiving countries, especially when there are ethnic differences and when politicians use refugees for their own purposes (as was the case in the DRC and the Hutus refugees from Rwanda).

June 20th is World Refugee Day.

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