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UN: Refugees Are Facing Less Friendly Environment

UN High Commissioner Warns Refugees Are Facing A Less Friendly Environment

Driven by prevailing fear, confusion and the politicization of humanitarian concerns, the world has become less friendly towards refugees - even though the number of people seeking asylum has fallen steeply - the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

Ruud Lubbers opened the annual meeting of UNHCR's 66-member governing body in Geneva with a call for nations to share, rather than shift, the burden of accepting asylum seekers.

He said the fear of criminal and terrorist networks, confusion about whether people are refugees or economic migrants, and the politicization of immigration policy have combined to erode the strength of asylum laws in many nations.

"The environment we are working in now must be described frankly as less friendly to refugees," he said.

Yet the numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers continue to fall. The total number of people who fall under UNHCR's concern has dropped by nearly 22 per cent from 21.8 million in January 2001 to 17.1 million at the start of this year. The number of people seeking asylum in industrialized States has also slumped, last year reaching its lowest level since 1997.

Mr. Lubbers said the concerted efforts of the agency and many nations meant "we are finding solutions for more and more people," citing as one example the organized return to Afghanistan of more than 3.5 million refugees since 2002.

Turning to UNHCR's current operations around the world, Mr. Lubbers said "the large-scale killing and clearing of villages" has now ended in the Darfur region of Sudan. But he lamented that "it took the international community half a year to really wake up" to the crisis in Darfur.

Also addressing the meeting, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director James Morris said that agency faces a growing shortfall for its refugee-related operations. WFP is now $220 million below the $865 million it needs to feed almost 11 million people.

Mr. Morris said donations to WFP's work in Liberia have begun to dry up "ever since the television cameras left the war-ravaged streets of Monrovia," and food aid for about 750,000 people is therefore due to run out in December.

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