New York (Fides Service) - “A Place to call home: Rebuilding lives in safety and dignity” is the theme of World Refugee Day 2004 June 20. For the occasion the United Nations High Commission for Refugees UNHCR issued a report on the situation of refugees in 2003 in which it shows that the number of people for whom the agency is responsible is 17.1 million, 18% lower than one year ago. This is the lowest figure in the last ten years.
High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers attributed this fall to several factors including more commitment by the international community to find lasting solutions to help the millions of displaced persons as well as continual activity by UNHCR and its partners to solve prolonged refugee crises. The report shows the good results obtained by UNHCR in 120 countries: almost 5 million either repatriated or settled in a new country where they can start a new life. “What for us are only numbers, are for these people the end of a long exile, the start of a new life and new hope for the future”, Lubbers said.
The total population of UNHCR concern of 17.1 million is divide as follows: 9.7 million refugees; 1.1 million repatriated refugees still in need of assistance; 4.2 million internally displaced persons; 233,000 displaced persons now back in their area of origin; 995,000 asylum seekers and 912,000 other categories of forced migrants and stateless persons.
Geographically they are distributed as follows: 6.2 million in Asia, 4.3 million in Africa ; 4.3 million in Europe, 1.3 million in America Latin and the Caribbean, almost million in North America and 74,000 in Oceania.
The main asylum countries are: Pakistan 1.1 million, Iran (985,000), Germany (960,000), Tanzania (650,000) and United States (452,000). However all these countries registered a fall in the number of refugees varying between 2% and 25% per cent. Afghans are once again the largest group of refugees, at least 2.1 million refugees in 74 different asylum countries, followed by Sudanese (606,000) and Burundians (531,000).
As a lasting solution to the dramatic situation of refugees UNHCR usually pursues voluntary repatriation. When this is not possible, the Agency tries to facilitate integration of refugees in countries of first asylum and their resettling in a third country which is safe.
Countries with the largest exodus of population in 2003 were Sudan (112,000 new refugees), Liberia (87,000), Central African Republic (33,000) Democratic Congo (30,000), Ivory Coast (22,000) Somalia (15,000).
The figures given by UNHCR do not include about 4 million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza Strip who are the responsibility of UNRWA the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 18/6/2004 lines 55 words 543)