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On World Refugee Day, Guterres says refugee protection more challenging

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On World Refugee Day, Guterres says refugee protection more challenging

19 June 2008

Thursday, 19 June 2008

GENEVA - Marking World Refugee Day on Friday 20 June, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said that providing protection for refugees today is vastly more challenging than when his office began work in 1951 trying to find solutions for Europeans uprooted in the aftermath of World War II.

"Old barriers to human mobility have fallen and new patterns of movement have emerged, including forms of forced displacement that were not envisaged by the 1951 UN Refugee Convention," Guterres said from Kenya, where he saw first-hand thousands of Somali refugees uprooted from their conflict-torn country, and Kenyans in the Rift Valley who were displaced in recent post-election violence.

Global refugee and forced displacement statistics for 2007, released by the UN refugee agency on Tuesday, showed Somalis were the fifth largest group of refugees and sixth largest group of internally displaced people under UNHCR's care worldwide, and the second largest group claiming asylum after Iraqis. The new statistics showed globally there were 11.4 million refugees outside their countries and 26 million others displaced internally by conflict or persecution at the end of 2007, contributing to an unprecedented number of people uprooted under the care of the UN refugee agency.

After a five-year decline in the number of refugees between 2001 and 2005, this is the second year of increases in refugees and displaced people.

"Conflict today may be motivated by politics, but looking deeper it can also be about poverty, bad governance, climate change leading to competition for scarce resources," said Guterres. "Recent food and fuel shortages have had an immediate and dramatic effect on the poor and the dispossessed, including refugees and the internally displaced. Extreme price increases have generated instability and conflict in many places, with the very real potential of triggering more displacement," he warned.

Guterres said these new challenges make it all the more important to find ways to address the increasingly complex root causes of displacement.

The UN refugee agency focuses on protecting the rights and well-being of refugees, including ensuring that those fleeing violence and persecution are given access to safety and life-saving assistance, as well as long-term support during exile and eventual durable solutions so they can rebuild their lives.

"But our work is becoming increasingly difficult in many parts of the world. In some countries, efforts to control illegal migration are failing to make a proper distinction between those who choose to move and those who are forced to flee because of persecution and violence," said Guterres. "All too often, we see refugees turned away at the borders of countries where they had hoped to find safety and asylum."

Guterres used the occasion of World Refugee Day to pay tribute to all those who have been forcibly uprooted as well as to the many humanitarians who help them.

"Refugees show incredible courage and perseverance in overcoming enormous odds to rebuild their lives," he said. "Ensuring that they get the protection they deserve is a noble cause because refugee rights are human rights - and rights that belong to us all."

Across the globe, in the 116 countries where UNHCR works, staff, refugees and humanitarian partners were involved in an array of activities to mark World Refugee Day, including experiencing refugee life in a UNHCR tent, bridge lighting, sports events, concerts, photo exhibitions and film festivals.

For further information on World Refugee Day events around the globe and the latest global statistical trends, visit

World Refugee Day 2008 is a collaborative effort to raise awareness about the world's refugees and their need of protection. UNHCR has received support for World Refugee Day awareness activities from Freud Communications, Live Planet, Microsoft, UPS, Working Title Films and WPP. We thank them for their contribution