Conflicts are leading to new era of near permanent refugee
populations, the head of the United Nation's refugee agency said. Yet
rich countries are only willing to take a fraction of those driven
forced to flee by drawn-out warfare - especially when it comes to
refugees from Afghanistan or Somalia.
"As a result of never-ending conflicts, we are witnessing the
creation of a number of quasi-permanent, global refugee populations,"
Antonio Guterres said in a speech to the UNHCR's governing executive
committee on Monday.
Afghan refugees are spread across some 69 countries, he noted. Peace
remains a distant hope in Somalia. Only 61 Somalis were able to return
home last year.
"I do not believe there is any group of refugees as systematically undesired, stigmatised and discriminated against," he said.
Guterres called on developed countries to do more to address the huge
demand for resettlement. Of the 800,000 refugees who need somewhere to
go annually, only one in ten has a chance of finding a place.
"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
The UNHCR was responsible for 15 million refugees in 2009, Guterres
said. Fewer returned voluntarily to their home country than in previous
More than half are fleeing conflict, and most of them are living in
developing countries. Many Afghan refugees live in camps in Pakistan and
Iran, while Iraqis have fled mainly to Syria and Jordan.
Guterres underlined the "extraordinary generosity" of Iran and Pakistan.
A far smaller numbers of refugees are accepted for resettlement in
the European Union member states, North America and Australia.
Even when they manage to arrive in countries further afield, people
fleeing conflict zones often face considerable barriers to gaining
refugee status. Stuck in a bureaucratic limbo, many brave homelessness,
surviving on the streets of countries such as Greece and France as
governments turn a blind eye.
Nearly 100 Afghan asylum seekers broke out of a detention centre near
Darwin, in Australia, in September to highlight their treatment in by
Australian immigration services.
They held up bed sheets reading "We are homeless" and "Show us mercy", the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The UNHCR is celebrating its sixtieth birthday this December.
Refugees and other displaced and stateless people, however, are caught
in an ever-more complex environment.