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Refugees_in_central_Africa_and_insurgency
In Central Africa and the Great Lakes region, countries with already large numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are burdened with refugee influx from neighboring conflicts. Many of the IDPs and refugees in Central Africa are served by U.N. camps across the region. Others are housed by local populations or public buildings. With recent outbreaks of violence humanitarian services have become unavailable in  regions.

In April, a UNHCR spokesman gave the number of Central African Republic (CAR) refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at 30,000. Many of these were forced to flee the violence in the capital Bangui. UNHCR also estimated that the number of IDPs in CAR reached 173,000. While this situation is grim the added strain on refugee camps and humanitarian services is exacerbated by the refugees crossing into CAR. Driven by conflict in the Western Darfur region and recent fighting in the DRC capital of Goma, Sudanese and Congolese refugees are seeking care in CAR. In April UNHCR estimated 21,000 refugees from the DRC and Sudan have sought refuge in CAR.

Despite peace talks currently taking place between the DRC government and the M23 rebel forces, the environment in the DRC remains uncertain and rife with tension. Rebel troops briefly held the capital, Goma, in November 2012 but lost control again to the government after a short period. The current standoff between the two sides has boosted the potential for forced recruitment in the countryside. Citizens fleeing the conflict and young men trying to avoid forcible recruitment spill into neighboring countries. In the last six months of 2012 UNHCR estimates that 60,000 Congolese refugees fled to Uganda and Rwanda. Many more were internally displaced.

Recent violence in the DRC has led the U.N. to deploy troops with one of its strongest mandates yet: counter insurgency operations. Despite a 20,000 U.N. peace force deployed in the region the rebel forces took and held Goma for 10 days last November, committing many atrocities including mass rape. The new U.N. deployment, consisting of troops from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi is intended to prevent new atrocities. The effectiveness of this newest deployment is uncertain. Troops will be engaging in joint operations, requiring coordination in an unfamiliar setting and already logistics and bureaucracy have delayed troop deployment.

Other military forces also have a presence in CAR. South Africa deployed 200 soldiers in January this year with the potential to deploy an additional 200. These forces will assist in training the CAR army and are not intended to engage directly with rebel forces. Ugandan soldiers with U.S. Special Forces support are also deployed in CAR. The Economic Community of Central Africa has authorized forces to deploy in the country as well. And France recently boosted their troop presence in CAR from 250 to 600.

The global and regional community recognizes the need for military intervention in the region demonstrated by the troop deployments. Whether this leads to a cessation in violence or even a lasting peace is uncertain.

– Callie D. Coleman

Sources: IRIN, The Economist, UNHCR
Photos: IRIN

Displaced_refugees_Syria

Every day an entire town’s worth of people is rendered homeless.

23,000 persons per day are forced to flee their homes, according to a United Nations report. By the numbers, this is akin to the evacuation of entire American towns. Due to conflict or persecution, these persons must rely on aid provided by various domestic and international organizations, placing strain on already weakened local economies and food supplies. The vast majority of these persons – over 80% – are hosted by developing nations.

Not only are local economies suffering as a result of displacement, the burden is also felt by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which logged some 35.8 million persons of concern in 2012. As a reference point, the population of California, the largest state in the U.S, is approximately 38.1 million people. In Pakistan, the number of refugees in relation to economic capacity is 552 persons to every $1 of GDP per capita, an astonishing statistic by our measurements.

In response to displacement concerns in Syria, a state in which 70% Palestinian refugees are displaced by conflict in addition to the Syrians themselves, the Obama administration has authorized an additional $300 million in humanitarian relief funds. This brings the total amount of aid given to Syria to nearly $815 million, making the U.S. the single-largest contributor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.

These contributions will be used “to help feed, shelter, and provide medical care for children, women, and men affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria,” according to a recent press release from the White House. The move is especially significant for efforts to increase global poverty relief and awareness in U.S. foreign affairs as it represents a clear recognition of an American responsibility to protect people worldwide.

In spite these commendable contributions, there remains a wide discrepancy between the number of refugees being hosted by developing countries and nations more capable of hosting displaced persons. To wit, UNHCR’s recent report  shows that more than half of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate resided in countries where the GDP per capita was below $5,000 in 2012. Pakistan and Iran hosted the largest number of refugees. Clearly, there is a great need for the U.S. and other developed countries to support refugees and the countries that host them.

– Herman Watson

Source: New York Times, UN Refugee Agency, Huffington Post, NBC News, The White House
Photo: NBC News

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June 20th marked World Refugee Day, a day to honor the many people worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict, violence, or persecution.  Today there are 43.7 million refugees or internally displaced people (IDPs) worldwide.   The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides protection and aid to 34 million of them.

Public awareness of these refugee crises often drops sharply after the initial news of the crisis wears off, but the crises themselves continue for years on end, with the toll of refugees climbing ever higher.  Here are the 5 largest refugee crises in the world according to the latest available data:

1.       Somalia- Since the Somalian Civil War in the 90s, Somalia has been a hotbed of humanitarian concerns and crises. Food crises and the violent insurgent group Al- Shabaab have only exacerbated the problems in the country, along with a large rise in piracy just off of the Somalian coast.  According to the UNHCR the total number of refugees and IDPs originating from Somalia numbers around 2.4 million.  The Somali government will hopefully regain control of its territory enough to sufficiently aid its refugees.

2.       Iraq- The US military invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq topped off decades of conflict in the country, including the Iran-Iraq War, the first Gulf War, and years of crippling sanctions.  The combination of these conflicts has put the UNHCR’s population of concern originating from Iraq at 3 million people.  The refugee situation there has been augmented as a result of the Syrian Civil War, in which many Iraqis who had fled to Syria are now choosing to return to their war torn homeland to escape the Syrian violence.

3.       Sudan– The secession of South Sudan from its northern counterpart has helped quell the humanitarian crisis there, but the UN estimates a total of 3.2 million people in its total population of concern originating from Sudan.  Sudanese refugees have come from the conflicts in Khartoum, Darfur, the Protocol Areas, and Eastern Sudan.

4.       Afghanistan– Since the overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001, lack of security has been a continuous problem for the Afghan people.  Tribal violence and Taliban influence continue to displace Afghan citizens daily. The UNHCR puts the total population of concern originating from of Afghanistan at 4.2 million people.

5.       Colombia– Though it is not often mentioned in the news, according to the UNHCR, Colombia has the largest total population of concern out of these countries: 4.3 million people.  Internal conflict has particularly affected the country’s indigenous population.  The effects of natural resource extraction and the armed groups involved therein have almost overwhelmed Colombian citizens.

Although it did not make the list of the world’s largest refugee crises, the situation in Syria represents the most rapidly growing refugee crisis.  The number of Syrian refugees is around 1.6 million currently, and the UN expects that to increase to 3.45 million in the next seven months.  The UN has also stated that it expects almost half of Syria’s pre-war population to require humanitarian aid by the end of 2013.

Though these conflicts fade from the minds of Americans after their initial impact, World Refugee Day is an opportunity to remember the situations these refugees are dealing with and to donate to a cause or pressure your elected officials to take action in support of these refugees.

– Martin Drake
Source: UNCR Country Profiles, ABC News
Photo: CWS Global

maliref_opt
In a recent statement to reporters in Geneva, Switzerland, UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, issued an urgent call for funds to help Mali Refugees get access to life-saving aid.  Spokesman Andrej Mahecic told journalists, “To date, we have received only 13 percent of the $153.7 million needed to assist desperate Malians displaced inside and outside their country.”  The UN first sounded the alarm in April, calling for US $144 million in aid.  However, in the subsequent months, as the crisis in Mali has worsened, and several thousand more refugees began fleeing the country, the need has become greater and more urgent.

UNHCR warned that basic needs such as the need for water are not being adequately met in the arid Sahel region where many refugees have fled.  The standard is 20 liters of water (about 5 gallons) per day per son. Currently refugees are receiving half that amount.  To compound the problem, water has to be transported to remote regions by truck, and that takes both time and money.  Efforts to dig wells have been only partially successful, as lingering drought has caused several wells to run try after as little as 12 weeks. The shortage of water, according UNHCR, is “dire.”  Efforts to provide schooling in the refugee camps have also been hampered, leaving 3 out of 4 refugee children without access to education.

More than 170,000 refugees need assistance.  That number does not include almost 200,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) still in Mali and still in great need.  Moreover, people have fled to neighboring Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania, countries which themselves are facing serious problems with poverty, conflict, and water shortages.

In addition to governments providing the much-needed aid, individuals can donate to UNCHR’s efforts as well through this link on the organization website.

– Délice Williams

Sources: UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, Oxfam
Sources: MSNBC Media

syrian-child_refugee_war_syria_global_poverty_development_undp_opt
Last week the U.N. office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said more than 1.5 million Syrian civilians had fled their country to escape the civil war that had been raging there for almost two years. Dan McNorton, a spokesman for the UNHCR, said the actual number of refugees is probably much higher due to concerns some Syrians have regarding registration. In addition, approximately 4 million people have been internally displaced since the beginning of the conflict. So what does this mean for the Syrian people who are now refugees? What can be expected in the life of a refugee?

The UNHCR defines a refugee as a person who,

owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.

Like the Syrian refugees, many are often caught between a rock and a hard place. If they stay, they put themselves and their families in serious danger. If they flee, instability and uncertainty greet them at every turn. The UNHCR was created in 1950 to lead and coordinates international efforts to protect and assist people facing this difficult decision.  They protect the basic human rights of refugees and aim to ensure all refugees are given the opportunity to seek asylum in another country.

The starting point for many is often a UN refugee camp, intended to create a safe haven until they can begin their lives anew. Unfortunately, it is all too often the end of the road as well. Those who live in the camps are usually provided basic life sustaining necessities, but many will never leave. They become trapped in a state of dependence on these camps.

Currently, the largest and oldest camp (designed to house around 90,000 people) is home to almost half a million people, mostly from Somalia. It was intended to be a temporary solution for the influx of refugees from Somalia when the country descended into civil war more than 20 years ago, but the remoteness of its eastern Kenyan location and threats to security have prevented the UNHCR from further developing the camp for those who have permanently settled there. Education and sanitation is limited and the camp is extremely overcrowded.

The Syrian refugees have fled mostly to the neighboring countries of Jordan and Lebanon. Just last week Oxfam issued an urgent appeal for funds to assist those who are fleeing the conflict. Rick Bauer, the regional humanitarian coordinator for Oxfam said, “The sad reality is that the vast majority of Syrian refugees are not going home soon. He added that Oxfam is “starting to really worry about the health of Syrian refugees”.

“The aid effort must be properly funded and focused on providing refugees with affordable and decent places to stay, where they can live with dignity. That’s priority number one for refugees and host communities alike,” he said.

Priority number one indeed. But for the sake of Syrians who find themselves in a refugee camp, we hope they do not stay long.

– Erin N. Ponsonby

Source: CNN, UNHCR, Raw Story
Photo: MWB

refugee populations
An estimated 15.2 million people in the world are refugees, people forced to leave their home countries because of persecution, war, or other kinds of violence. That’s the equivalent of the populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco combined.

Who are these people? Where do they come from? And where do they currently reside? Data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees give us the following snapshot of these populations: of the 15.2 million refugees, 46% are under 18, and 48% are female. Most of these people have been forced to move to developing nations, which host an estimated 80% of the world’s refugee population.

The country with the largest refugee population in the world is Pakistan, which hosts an estimated 1.7 million refugees. Many of these refugees are from neighboring Afghanistan, the country that produces the greatest number of refugees, an estimated 2.7 million people. To place these numbers in a global context, below is a list of the world’s top 5 largest refugee populations by nation of origin.

 

Largest Refugee Populations

1. Afghanistan –  2.7 million refugees worldwide

2. Iraq – 1.7 million

3. Somalia –  770,000

4. Democratic Republic of Congo – 477,000

5. Myanmar – 415,000

 

Refugees from these and other countries are forced to move across the globe, many of them ending up in Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Germany, and Jordan, the top 5 on the list of host countries. Jordan, Syria, Congo, Chad, and Montenegro are the countries with the highest proportion of refugees per 1,000 people. The United States currently hosts an estimated 265,000 refugees.

Although numbers like these are sometimes hard to grasp, compiling this kind of data is vital for refugee aid organizations like UNHCR, which rely on data to plan ways to help the people and countries involved. UNHCR publishes an annual Global Trends Report on refugee populations. The next such report is due in June 2013.

– Délice Williams

Sources: UNHCR, The Guardian, MSN Causes
Photo: Guardian

History of the UNHCR
Over the 63-year history of the UNHCR, the staff, budget, legal framework, NGO network, geographic scope and expertise of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has expanded. Despite the initially ambitious goal of solving all refugee problems in three years, the extended mandate of the UNHCR speaks to the consistent problem of refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, and stateless peoples.

WWII left around 400,000 people homeless refugees strewn across Europe. In 1950, the ambitious new global institution, the UN, created the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) under a three-year mandate to complete its work and then disband. With only 34 staff members and a $300,000 first year budget, the UN quickly realized the magnitude of the problem far outweighed the resources of the body. A year after its inception, a legal foundation for assisting refugees was set up to establish a legal framework under which refugees can claim international rights. In recognition of the innovative humanitarianism the UNHCR performed, the new organization won the 1954 Nobel Peace Prize.

When the Soviets put down the Hungarian revolution in 1956, an outpouring of refugees into neighboring countries was an humanitarian emergency. The decolonization of Africa in the 1960s and pursuant demarcation of sovereign state boundaries “produced the first of that continent’s numerous refugee crises needing UNHCR intervention.” Through the 1970s and 1980s, the UNHCR advocated and assisted refugees in Asia and Latin America. In 1981 the UNHCR again won the Nobel Peace Prize for “assistance to refugees, with the citation noting the political obstacles facing the organization.”

When the Berlin Wall fell and proxy wars ended, governments previously ‘shored up’ by foreign assistance were weakened. This allowed the “proliferation of identity based conflicts” causing new refugee problems. The 1990s brought the refugee emergencies full circle back to Africa and Europe with the wars in the Balkans. Throughout the 21st century, the UNHCR has been assisting refugees in the extremely sensitive crises of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.

The UNHCR also expanded to assist internally displaced persons and stateless peoples—a politically divisive issue. Stateless peoples are frequently overlooked and denied basic human rights because they do not have citizenship. Fortunately, in some regions, regional agreements have strengthened the 1951 mandate.

As population movement becomes more complex so does the refugee situation. Approximately 150 million people live outside their country of birth. 10% of these people are refugees. This amounts to about 1 out of 400 people worldwide. Most often, refugees are created from violent conflict and recent research and practitioners’ experiences show humanitarian aid can no longer be considered independent of a conflict. Often, conflicting factions see the humanitarian body as supporting one side or the other making the aid workers and aid vulnerable to attack and manipulation.

Fortunately, the UNHCR has reflected the growing problem by growing size, scope, and depth of action. In 2012, the UNHCR had budget of $3.59 billion and a staff of 7,685 based in the Geneva headquarters, 126 countries within which 135 main offices operate and 279 remote field offices function. Of the 43 million people uprooted worldwide, the UNHCR supports 33.9 million ‘people of concern.’ The two largest groups are internally displaced persons (14.7 million people) and refugees (10.5 million persons). The remaining groups returnees (3.1 million), stateless people (3.5 million), asylum seekers (837,000) and ‘other’ (1.3 million).

Katherine Zobre
Sources: UNHCR History , The State of the World’s Refugees 2000
Photo: UNHCR