June 17, 2006
What Statistics Mean for Refugees
This was posted on Amnesty International’s website. Interesting information on what statistics don’t reflect about refugees and the internally displaced, especially in light of World Refugee Day being this Tuesday.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are fewer refugees worldwide today than at any time in almost a quarter of a century. Since 2000, the number of refugees has fallen steadily to just over 9 million in early 2005. Between January 2001 and December 2004 an unprecedented five million refugees returned to their countries of origin. But the reality is far bleaker and more complex than the numbers suggest. Large numbers of people returned to, for example, Afghanistan, Iraq and Burundi during this period in conditions that were not voluntary, safe or dignified.
The persistent focus on statistics by both the international community and individual governments has often led to the rights of refugees being disregarded. Ever-increasing numbers of asylum-seekers have been prevented from accessing protection, either physically or through complex legal procedures. Increasingly restrictive policies in the context of the “war on terror” have fuelled racism and xenophobia, with some politicians and segments of the media linking all refugees with criminality and terrorism.
And while the number of refugees may be dropping, there remain around 25 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) – people forced from their homes by conflict or natural disaster who have not crossed an international border. Inter-state conflict is less prevalent today than internal armed conflict, causing fewer refugee flows across borders, but more IDPs whose protection and assistance needs, systematically denied in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, must be addressed.
It is time for governments and decision-makers worldwide to stop pandering to public fears about asylum-seekers and refugees and to honour their obligations to those in need of international protection. Whether the number of refugees rises or continues to fall, human rights must be the basis for all laws and practices concerning refugees, asylum-seekers and IDPs.