Close to 45 million people displaced

ALERTNETJune 16th, 2009 in Breaking News, World Alerts

This year’s crises in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia are pushing the number of people forced to flee their homes towards the 45 million mark – the highest number in at least a decade, U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres says.

There were around 16 million refugees and 26 million people uprooted within their own country at the end of 2008, according to the U.N. refugee agency’s annual Global Trends report released on Tuesday. (See this factbox.)

Although this was a slight decline on 2007, it does not reflect the rapid displacements in the first half of this year.

Guterres said the mass exodus of people from northwest Pakistan, where the military is trying to rout Taliban militants, was probably the worst since the 1990s when conflict in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) uprooted millions.

“We had 42 million (displaced globally) at the end of 2008 and very probably we will be getting close to 45 million at the present moment,” he told AlertNet.

“What we’re witnessing now is indeed, if not an unprecedented crisis, one of the most dramatic in recent times.”

But he added: “More important in my opinion than the total number … is the recognition that in many situations displacement is becoming protracted … and at the same time the fact that 80 percent of the world’s refugees and the overwhelming majority of those internally displaced are in the developing world.”

Nearly 6 million refugees have been in exile – mostly in camps – for five years or more, the report shows. Developing countries hosting large refugee populations include Pakistan (1.8 million), Syria (1.1 million) and Iran (980,000).

Guterres said he was alarmed by the nature of debate in some wealthier countries facing the arrival of just a few thousand refugees.

“Those that debate asylum, migration and people on the move in the developed world should meditate a little bit before launching into xenophobic reaction trying to limit the right to seek asylum,” he added.