Displaced on the Rise Iraq Conflict Fuels Increase in Refugees

The number of refugees in the world went up in 2006 for the first time since the beginning of the decade. And Iraq, says the United Nations, is largely to blame.

Numbers of refugees are on the rise across the world. So too are the internally displaced, like this Tamil boy in a Sri Lankan camp.

Numbers of refugees are on the rise across the world. So too are the internally displaced, like this Tamil boy in a Sri Lankan camp.

For the first time in half a decade the number of refugees in the world is no longer declining, said the United Nations agency responsible for refugees Tuesday. And the main reason for the 2006 uptick is Iraq.

According to the "2006 Global Trends" report, published every year by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the total number of refugees the agency is looking after rose by more than 14 percent to almost 10 million people. The number of internally displaced people -- those uprooted by conflict but who have not crossed an international border -- likewise increased last year with the UNHCR now responsible for almost 13 million.

"As the number of those uprooted by persecution, intolerance and violence around the world increases," High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a statement, "we must face the challenges and demands of a changing world, while remaining faithful to our mandate of defending the rights of refugees and other people we care for."

With 2.1 million refugees, the conflict in Afghanistan continues to send the most refugees into the arms of the UNHCR, but a radical increase in the number of people fleeing the fighting in Iraq was the single greatest factor driving up overall numbers. By the end of 2006, some 1.5 million refugees from Iraq had sought shelter in Syria and Lebanon. Thousands have also found their way to Europe to seek asylum status, most of them ending up in Sweden. The 2006 increase was the first worldwide rise in the numbers of refugees since 2002.

Conflicts in East Timor, Sudan's Darfur region and Sri Lanka were likewise to blame for the increase in global refugee numbers. In addition to 686,000 fleeing the Sudan violence, other Africa hotspots were also driving people from their homes, including 460,000 Somalis and 400,000 each from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

The total number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in 2006 was estimated by the Norwegian Refugee Council to be 24.5 million. However the UNHCR only has a mandate to help IDP's from specific conflicts. The 4.3 Palestinian refugees currently living in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories are likewise not included in the UNHCR total, as a different agency has responsibility for their well being.

The total number of people falling under the UNHCR's mandate increased from 21 million in 2005 to 33 million in 2006 -- an increase of almost 64 percent.



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