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World Environment Day

Briefing notes

World Environment Day

5 June 2001

Today is World Environment Day. UNHCR joins the UN Environment Programme in observing this day, since environmental issues are closely linked to refugee movements, especially large scale ones. UNHCR's interest stems not only from a general concern about environment, but also from the worry that the negative impact large refugee populations sometimes have on the environment of the host area could harm the institution of asylum or the willingness to accept refugees. UNHCR has been involved in various work aimed at lessening the impact of refugees on the environment of the hosting area and rehabilitation work after their departure.

For example, in Sudan which is host to more than 170,000 Eritrean refugees - one of the oldest refugee groups - UNHCR is supporting programmes aimed at repairing environmental degradation caused by the protracted stay of refugees in the eastern part of that country. The first group of refugees arrived in Sudan from present day Eritrea in 1967. In Afghanistan, a country where the environment is already under considerable pressure, the return of four million refugees from Iran and Pakistan has worsened existing problems. Construction materials and fuel from forests have become scarce. UNHCR is responding by identifying alternative sources of building materials and domestic fuel.