LONDON (AlertNet) – Post-election violence in Ivory Coast and the Arab Spring revolutions helped create 800,000 new refugees last year – the highest number in over a decade, according to the U.N. refugee agency’s annual report on global trends.
“2011 saw suffering on an epic scale. For so many lives to have been thrown into turmoil over so short a space of time means enormous personal cost for all who were affected,” said Antonio Guterres, head of the UNHCR agency.
In all, 4.3 million people were newly displaced last year due to conflict or persecution, according to the Global Trends 2011 report. Most were uprooted within their own countries.
Conflict in Ivory Coast, Libya, Somalia and Sudan were among crises that prompted large numbers to flee their homes.
Worldwide, 42.5 million people ended 2011 either as refugees (15.2 million), internally displaced within their country (26.4 million) or in the process of seeking asylum (895,000).
The overall figure was slightly lower than the 2010 total of 43.7 million people, due mainly to large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) returning home in countries including Pakistan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Some 3.2 million IDPs went home, the highest rate of returns in more than a decade. But only 532,000 refugees went home.
The UNHCR said its report highlights some worrying long-term trends:
- Displacement due to violence and persecution is affecting larger numbers – for the fifth year running the total displaced exceeds 42 million.
- A person who becomes a refugee is likely to stay one for many years – often stuck in a camp or living precariously in an urban location.
Almost three quarters of the 10.4 million refugees under the UNHCR’s care have been in protracted exile for at least five years, the agency says.
Overall, Afghanistan remains the biggest source of refugees (2.7 million) followed by Iraq (1.4 million), Somalia (1.1 million), Sudan (500,000), and DRC (491,000), according to the report.
Around four-fifths of refugees flee to neighbouring countries. Pakistan hosts 1.7 million refugees, nearly all from Afghanistan. Iran shelters 886,500 refugees, Kenya 566,500 and Chad 366,500. Syria and Jordan are hosting large numbers of Iraqis.
UNHCR’s original mandate was to help refugees, but its work has grown to include assisting many of the world’s IDPs and those who are stateless.
Stateless people lack any nationality and are deprived of the rights and benefits that citizenship brings. The total stateless population was estimated at 12 million in 2011, but the UNHCR said its efforts to assess the size of the problem were hampered by the fact only 64 governments provided data on stateless people.