‘Iraq drives’ global refugee rise

Afghan refugees in Peshawar

Afghans still make up the majority of the world’s refugees

The number of refugees worldwide has risen for the first time in five years, largely because of violence in Iraq, according to a United Nations report. The total number of refugees rose by more than 14% last year to nearly 10 million, the UN refugee agency says.

The number of internally displaced people also reached a record high of almost 13 million, the report says.

Besides Iraq, conflicts in Lebanon, East Timor, Sudan and Sri Lanka were blamed for the rise in refugee numbers.

The figures released by the UN do not include some 4.3m Palestinians displaced by the conflict with Israel.

The current total is the highest since 2002, when the UN reported there were 10.6m refugees worldwide.

“For the first time since 2002, a declining trend in the global figures was reversed,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ report, 2006 Global Trends, said.


The UN said the world had 9.9m refugees at the end of 2006 – a rise of 1.2m or 14% – from the total of 8.7m recorded at the end of 2005.

Our desperation is nothing next to that of the millions of victims of forced displacement

Antonio Guterres
UN High Commissioner for Refugees

The report said the conflict in Iraq was largely responsible for the rise.

Some 1.5m Iraqis are now estimated to be living as refugees in other countries, mostly neighbouring Syria and Jordan.

They form the world’s second-largest group of refugees after Afghans, 2.1m of whom are said to be still living outside their homeland.

Among the other notable refugee populations listed in the report were 686,000 Sudanese, 460,000 Somalis and roughly 400,000 people each from DR Congo and Burundi.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said his organisation must work hard to adapt to the rise in refugee numbers.

Iraqi refugees in Damascus

Millions of Iraqis have fled to neighbouring Jordan and Syria

“As the number of those uprooted by persecution, intolerance and violence around the world increases, we must face the challenges and demands of a changing world,” he said.

“We are part of the collective response by the UN system and the broader humanitarian community to the plight of the internally displaced.”

But, he said, his organisation’s role was “severely constrained” when faced with conflicts such as that in Sudan’s Darfur region.

“That may seem intolerable, yet our desperation is nothing next to that of the millions of victims of forced displacement,” he added.

Internally displaced

The UN report also revealed that the number of people who were internally displaced – but not classed as refugees under international law – rose over the last year to 24.5 million.

The conflict in Iraq is again believed to be one of the prime factors behind the reported rise in internally displaced people.

Some 2.3m Iraqis are believed to be displaced within their country, according to latest UNHCR figures not cited in this report.

Some 32.9m people are classed by the report as “persons of concern” – a category that includes those who are returnees, stateless or internally displaced.

This figure marks a 56% increase on the figure for the previous year.

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