Geneva (AsiaNews/Agencies) – For the first time since 2002 the number of refugees in the world has increased. According to a report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, by the end of 2006 there were 9.9 million people forced to leave their countries by war, poverty and natural disasters. The document was published today, on the ever of the World Day for Refugees 2007.
The last official data issued in 2005 estimated a total of 8.7 million refugees. the increase in the number of refugees is largely due to the situation in Iraq, which by the end of 2006 had forced up to 1.5 million Iraqis to seek refuge in other countries, particularly Syria and Jordan; this number equal to 14% of the total number of refugees counts for the global increase. A further 300 thousand have fled to other countries. Iraqi refugees are second only in number to Afghanis which amounts to 2.1 million people. Other groups include Sudanese (686,000), Somalis (460,000).
UNHCR figures do not include some 4.3 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Occupied Territories, who fall under the mandate of a separate agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). If added, the total number of refugees under both agencies' mandates is over 14 million.
In addition to refugees, for a number of years UNHCR has also been helping specific populations of internally displaced people (IDPs). These are people who have also fled their homes because of threats to their safety but who have not crossed any internationally recognised borders. The UN says the countries hit most by this phenomenon are Iraq, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste and Sudan; amounting to a total of 24.5 million people, 13 million of whom are assisted by UNHCR.
Adding both total refugee and IDP count arrives at an amount of 32.9 million people, an increase of 56% in the last year alone.