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Number of Refugees in the World at Lowest Level in 25 Years

I’m Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Development Report.

The number of refugees in the world is at its lowest in twenty-five years. The United Nations refugee agency estimates the current number at a little more than nine million.

More than half are people who have been in exile for at least five years. The agency says no solutions to their cases can be seen. But it notes progress in efforts to return millions of others to their home countries.

For example, more than four million have returned to Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have returned to Angola, Sierra Leone, Burundi and Liberia.

Antonio Guterres is the U.N. High Commissioner or Refugees. He says that although the numbers of refugees are down, their well-being remains a concern. A report from his office last week says immigrants and asylum-seekers face greater barriers than ever. These include fears of terrorism, stronger immigration limits and growing rejection of foreigners.

Mister Guterres says there is a growing intolerance happening everywhere. In his words: "This is creating a difficult environment in which the foreigner, the one that is different, is sometimes hated, sometimes feared.”

The high commissioner says the world also faces problems with how it deals with people displaced by conflict. Refugees are defined as people who flee their country because of violence, natural events or political disputes. Internally displaced persons, I.D.P.'s, leave their homes for the same reasons. But the difference is that they remain within their country.

Today conflicts within nations are more common than conflicts between nations. As a result, the report says, fewer people are crossing international borders.

The I.D.P. situation is described as especially bad in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The United Nations estimates that seven-and-one-half million people in those two countries were forced from their homes last year.

A nineteen fifty-one document called the United Nations Refugee Convention defines what refugees are and demands their protection. There is no similar document for internally displaced people. Their number is estimated at twenty-five million worldwide.

Antonio Guterres says I.D.P.’s urgently need help. “Internal displacement,” he says, “is the world’s biggest failure in humanitarian action.”

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. Read and listen to our reports at I’m Steve Ember.