Refugees Magazine Issue 109 (1997 In Review) - The World
Refugees (109, III - 1997)
International attention inevitably focused on mega crises such as the Great Lakes region in Africa and Bosnia, but there were dozens of other flashpoints and UNHCR helped more than 22 million people in every corner of the globe last year.
In Asia, an estimated 60,000 Cambodians fled to Thailand following renewed fighting in their country. The majority of 250,000 people who left Myanmar in 1991-92 had returned home by Spring, but the flow later reversed and several thousand Myanmar muslims again sought sanctuary in Bangladesh.
The Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indo-Chinese refugees [CPA] formally ended in 1996, but the repatriation of most of the remaining 22,000 Vietnamese in Hong Kong continued until last June. Under the 1989 Plan, 109,000 Vietnamese who did not fulfil accepted refugee criteria repatriated. UNHCR financed some 800 small infrastructure projects to help these returnees and monitoring teams reported that the great majority were reintegrating satisfactorily.
Overall, Africa was the continent of most concern to UNHCR with more than eight million people in need of assistance. The situations in countries such as Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Angola remained fragile at best and exiled communities from those nations totalling nearly two million people continued to seek sanctuary in surrounding states. In May, fighting engulfed the West African state of Sierra Leone and thousands of refugees streamed into neighbouring Guinea. UNHCR was forced to evacuate its own staff. Amidst this turmoil there were several repatriation operations to Mali, Ethiopia, Liberia and other areas.
In the Middle East, thousands of Kurds were victims of ongoing military and political instability. Humanitarian agencies faced a dilemma they had already encountered in the Great Lakes; trying to help innocent civilian populations infiltrated by large numbers of gunmen.
When chaos engulfed Albania, thousands of people fled to Italy and Greece, and UNHCR urged those countries to allow them to stay until the situation at home stabilized. There were disturbing trends in Europe, North America and other areas of the world where governments continued to erect tougher barriers for people seeking asylum - a pattern many worried posed the greatest challenge to the concept of international protection since World War II.
Several thousand Guatemalan refugees applied for citizenship or permanent residence under a generous and groundbreaking law passed the previous year by Mexico's government. Other longtime Guatemalans went home later in the year. Sister Joannes Klas, an American member of the Sisters of Saint Francis, was presented with the 1997 Nansen Medal by High Commissioner Sadako Ogata for her 15 years of work with Guatemalan refugees. Fighting flared in Colombia's Urabá region and when civilians fled to neighbouring Panama more than 300 were forcibly returned. As many as 900,000 people have been displaced in Colombia in recent years by fighting between government forces, left-wing rebels and paramilitary groups.