Published on Thursday, June 15, 2006 by Agence France Presse
Iraq Conflict Fuels Rise in Global Refugees to 12 Million: Survey
by Emad Mekay
The global refugee population has begun to rise for the first time in four years, largely due to instability in Iraq, a US group said in a survey, which saw refugee protection deteriorating by all measures.
The number of refugees and asylum seekers increased to 12 million in 2005 from 11.5 million a year earlier, according to "World Refugee Survey 2006" of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), a non-profit group tracking the problem worldwide.
The survey counted 644,500 more Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria in 2005 and indicated a "more significant outflow" in the future.
"The deteriorating situation in Iraq has led to the refugee outflow some predicted at the onset of the war, which has only now materialized," the USCRI said.
Over 40 percent of Iraqi professionals have fled the insurgency-wracked nation since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, it said.
Syria now hosts 351,000 Iraqi refugees and has the largest population of Iraqi Shiite Muslims outside Iraq, while Jordan hosts 450,000 Iraqi refugees, many of whom are Christian minorities, according to the report.
It said that the Middle East and Africa continued to host the largest number of refugees, and that eight million or two-thirds of the world's refugees remained "warehoused" or deprived of basic human rights as enshrined in the UN Refugee Convention for five years or more.
Neither Jordan nor Syria, said the report, recognized the UN's call for temporary protection of refugees and "both refuse entry to many new arrivals.
"We are concerned that protection for Iraqis is deteriorating," USCRI President Lavinia Limon said.
"Syria has begun to require residency authorization so many refugees are forced to live underground. Jordan is not granting refugee status to Iraqis and refusing entry to many," Limon said.
USCRI anticipates even "a more significant outflow" of Iraqi refugees in the near future, based on Baghdad's issuance of two million passports over the last 10 months.
According to the survey, the global refugee population begun to fall after hitting 14.9 million in 2001 but showed an uptrend again last year.
USCRI's 12 million global refugee figure for 2005 was far higher than the 8.4 million cited by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last week.
The UNHCR had said that the number of refugees who fled their homeland dropped to its lowest level in almost three decades last year, adding however that there was an alarming rise in the total displaced within their own country.
The UNHCR did not take into account Palestinian refugees, who came under the jurisdiction of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), USCRI spokeswoman Sarah Petrin said.
There are almost three million Palestinian refugees in 2005 based on USCRI figures, she told AFP.
In addition, the UN did not take into account the newly arrived Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria, both of which did not recognize UN protection of Iraqi refugees, Petrin said.
For the second year, USCRI graded policies of countries that host refugees, including whether they gave basic physical protection and allowed them to work and move about freely.
"By all measures, refugee protection has deteriorated worldwide," said Gregory Chen, USCRI's director of policy analysis and research.
"Far too many governments forced refugees back to unsafe home countries where they faced persecution, fighting and conflict," he said.
Among the worst government offenders last year were Russia, China, Tanzania, Nepal and Kenya, USCRI said.
Copyright © 2006 AFP