Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Worldwide more refugees, less help

Many of the refugees who were fleeing Libya in fact came from Somalia, Eritrea and Ivory Coast. “These people were refugees twice over”, Mr Guterres stresses. “First they fled war and persecution in their own countries and now, seeking safety in Italy, they tragically lost their lives.”
Only 47 refugees on board the boat survived, among them a pregnant woman. “We are deeply shocked,” says US film star Angelina Jolie, who had just visited Libya as goodwill ambassador of the UN refugee agency.
46 million
Worldwide there are some 46 million refugees and internally displaced people, according to a recent UNCHR report. And the number keeps growing steadily, the agency warns, at a time when the world’s resources to help them are dwindling. Helping North Africa’s refugees alone costs 67 million dollars, Mr Guterres points out.
Most of the refugees are being displaced within Africa. Libya’s civil war alone has driven some 440,000 people to seek shelter in Tunisia and Egypt as well as some European countries bordering the Mediterranean. And tensions in Yemen and Syria are bound to make the refugee crisis even worse.
Television
“We only seem to think of them when we see them on television,” UNHCR spokesperson María Jesús Vega says. “As soon as the media lose interest a crisis or region, political interest evaporates too,” she says.
Refugees, for the UNHCR, are not only those displaced by political factors such as wars and internal conflicts, but also include those affected by natural disasters. In both cases people’s security is at stake.
In Sudan alone, the UNHCR estimates, millions of people are still living in make-shift camps. “And then, just in Africa, you’ve also got Somalia, which people keep fleeing in huge numbers, as well as Congo, Uganda, etc.,” Ms Vega points out.
IDPs
The situation in Asia isn’t much better. In Myanmar, for example, the country’s internal conflict and a typhoon have driven two million people from their homes. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Thailand, Malaysia and Bangladesh but most of them are IDPs, internally displaced people.
Over 1.5 million Iraqis have fled to Syria, with another one million IDPs in Iraq itself. And tens of thousands of Afghans have fled to Pakistan, while some 300,000 others have been displaced within Afghanistan itself.
Colombia
In the Americas, relief agencies remain focussed on Colombia, where decades of conflict have resulted in some three million IDPs. It's a huge number but the international community is largely ignoring them.
And in Haiti, over 500,000 people are still living in camps. When the quake struck over a year ago, it made headlines around the world. Now the camera crews have long gone.