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Record refugee numbers

June 20, 2012

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has registered a record number of people leaving their homes in the wake of conflicts and unrest. UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming says the burdens are not evenly divided.

Refugees from Bangladesh show their passports at the Libya-Tunisia border
Image: dapd

DW: If we look at the total numbers in the new Global Trends Report we see a record number of new refugees - 800,000 - that have fled their country in the wake of violent conflicts and forced displacement. Another 3.5 million people were newly displaced within their own country. How does the UNHCR cope with such numbers of people that you have to accommodate, help and assist?

Melissa Fleming: The numbers are staggering. We're saying that they are record numbers and there are this big, huge 800,000 in 2011 that crossed borders. But equally disturbing is the number of about 4 million who had to flee their homes and stay within their country but just as desperately fled conflict and war. For us these numbers are a reflection of a very sorry state of the world. People flee because there is war and persecution; violent conflict remains the biggest reason why people are fleeing. The old conflicts unfortunately are not resolved and new ones are springing up making these numbers even worse.

A map of the world showing the main cross-border refugee movements

Deutsche Welle: The 2011 Global Trends Report still lists Syria as one of the major host countries - mainly for Iraqi refugees. Has this situation changed - and what is the status of the Iraqi refugees in Syria today?

Melissa Fleming: Obviously the situation has changed for the Iraqi refugees there because [Syria] has become more insecure. But it is still true that Syria is a major refugee hosting country.

Deutsche Welle: If we look at where refugees who cross borders go, four out of five are actually refugees are registered in developing host countries. Do you think international support is sufficient to cope with such numbers?

Melissa Fleming: This is true: most refugees in the world are hosted in developing countries and some of them the poorest countries in the world. When you think of Pakistan that is hosting 1.7 million Afghan refugees, or Kenya that is hosting a city of refugees - the third largest city of Kenya is a refugee camp with over half a million people. Obviously, those countries should be congratulated; they keep their borders open which is the most precious and valuable thing a country can do when there is a war in a neighboring country, and they allow these people to be hosted on their soil. Obviously, they need solidarity and, obviously, they need help from the international community because they cannot cope themselves.

Deutsche Welle: Do they get this help?

A graph showing numbers of internally displaced persons in vairous countries

Melissa Fleming: Not enough. We are continuously calling for this recognition that the majority of countries that are helping refugees are the poorest countries. We do believe the international community should recognize this in the form of increased assistance….

Deutsche Welle: If we look at the number of asylum seekers it has actually risen in the industrialised countries. Are you satisfied with the response of the richer countries?

Melissa Fleming: It depends on which country. If you look at Europe, it is sometimes said that Europe has an asylum system that is a la carte. It depends on where you land as a refugee. There is a regulation that in the first country wherever you land you have to claim asylum there and you have to be fingerprinted there. If you are a Somali and you land in Greece you have a very, very, very small chance of being recognised as a refugee. Whereas if you are a Somali and your first stop is in Germany you have a very high chance. And we do consider that unfair.

Interview: Helle Jeppesen
Editor: Michael Lawton