Refugee statistics: Numbers up for the first time in five years
Earlier today, on the eve of World Refugee Day, 20 June, we released UNHCR's 2006 Global Trends report which shows the number of refugees in the world has increased for the first time in five years, mainly due to the crisis in Iraq.
In brief, the number of refugees under our mandate rose last year by 14 percent to almost 10 million, the highest level since 2002 when 10.59 million refugees were reported. At the same time, the share of other categories of people under UNHCR's different mandates also grew sharply, in most cases as a result of improved registration systems and more accurate statistics.
In 2006, the main group of refugees under UNHCR's mandate continued to be Afghans (2.1 million), followed by Iraqis (1.5 million), Sudanese (686,000), Somalis (460,000), and refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi (about 400,000 each).
By the end of 2006, the number of IDPs protected or assisted by UNHCR as part of the collaborative UN effort reached a record high of almost 13 million (more than half of the estimated IDP population in the world). This is almost double the previous year's figure and is the single biggest reason for the sharp increase in the overall number of people under UNHCR's mandates - from 21 million in 2005 to almost 33 million in 2006.
While overall refugee numbers are up, the 2006 statistics also show some bright spots with some 734,000 refugees returning home voluntarily mainly to Afghanistan, Liberia, Burundi, Angola and Sudan.
The High Commissioner is currently in southern Sudan ahead of World Refugee Day and is seeing for himself the difficult conditions refugees face on return to their home countries. On Monday, he joined a convoy of returning refugees from Moyo in northern Uganda and travelled with them in a truck for the two-hour, dusty and rough journey across the border to southern Sudan. Later today he will travel to Juba, the hub of UNHCR's operations in the south. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to take part in World Refugee Day events in Juba before flying to Nairobi.