New Internationalist

Run For Your Life

Issue 350

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Refugees / RUNNING

Run for your life
There are an estimated 14.9 million refugees and asylum seekers in the world. A further 22 million people may be 'internally displaced'. These are not protected by international refugee law and may be at even greater risk.

IRAQ There are more people from Iraq than any other country currently seeking asylum in 28 industrialized countries. Some 12,272 applied in the first three months of 2002 - almost a tenth of all applications. Up to two million Iraqis live in exile. Reasons for fleeing include: political and ethnic persecution; poverty and effects of sanctions; threat of US attack.

NORTH KOREA Famine - compounded by political turmoil, repression and mismanagement - has pushed hundreds of thousands of North Koreans over the border into China. Those caught and forcibly repatriated are subject to brutal treatment, including torture, placement in work camps and even execution.

PALESTINIANS Palestinians make up one of the single largest refugee group in the world - 4.1 million by the end of 2001. Policies being pursued by Israel in the Occupied Territories are increasing the number of those forced to flee.

CONGO (DR) The African Great War has created 2 million internally displaced people and 355,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The war involving seven neighbouring nations has devastated the country and cost 2.5 million lives since 1998. A peace process agreed in July 2002 has yet to be tested.

SUDAN Sudan's 19-year-old civil war between its Islamist Government and mainly Christian rebels in the South has produced nearly 4.5 million uprooted people. Compounded by severe human-rights abuses, there are ongoing reasons to flee.

AFGHANISTAN At the beginning of 2002 an estimated total of 4 million Afghans were in exile. By July 1.3 million were reported to have returned, despite lack of infrastructure or political stability. Relief agencies warn the situation is still not safe. Certain ethnic groups are especially at risk.

KURDS Around 400,000 Kurdish refugees from four countries reside in Europe and the Middle East. But in 2001 Sweden and Holland announced plans to deport 5,000 Kurds and France tried to turn away 900 boat people. Since 1984 around 3 million Kurds have been displaced in Turkey. Around 1.1 million have had their homes destroyed in Iraq and Turkey. Armed fighting, in which 30,000 died, between the Kurdish militant PKK and the Turkish government, is over - but human-rights abuses of Kurds persist.

COLOMBIA The collapse of the peace process between the Colombian Government and FARC rebels is producing more violence and increasing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers. There are 720,000 displaced people within the country.

NIGERIA Applications from Nigerians for asylum in Europe are on the increase. Violent intercommunal clashes between Muslims and Christians left hundreds dead in 2001 and displaced tens of thousands. Human-rights abuses and vigilante attacks are rising.

[image, unknown] There are also significant numbers of refugees from: Eritrea, Somalia, Liberia, Sri Lanka, China (including Tibet); Russia (including Chechyna); Albania; Burundi; Angola; Vietnam; Bosnia; Algeria.

[image, unknown] In 2001 many thousands of refugees returned voluntarily to countries where conditions have improved but remain unsafe for certain groups and/or infrastructure is in ruins. These include: Sierra Leone (93,000); FR Yugoslavia (25,600); Somalia (51,300); Burundi (27,900), Eritrea (32,700); Rwanda (21,700); Bosnia & Herzegovina (18,700) and East Timor (18,200).

Sources: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Geneva, Report of June 2002. Website: US Committee for Refugees, World Refugee Survey 2002, Washington. Website: Refugee Council, London, 2002. Website:

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This article was originally published in issue 350

New Internationalist Magazine issue 350
Issue 350

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