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World: Refugees Have Difficulties Finding Refuge

  • Julie Moffett

Washington, 23 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - A new global survey on refugees says 14.5 million people worldwide were displaced from their homes or seeking asylum and were having a harder time finding refuge last year.

The report, called the World Refugee Survey, is produced annually by the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR), a non-profit humanitarian organization, which assesses and determines the needs of displaced people fleeing unstable conditions or repressive regimes in their homelands.

The survey identifies two major categories of people: "refugees" -- people that leave their countries as a result of persecution, war or widespread violence; and "internally displaced people" -- civilians who are forced from their homes, but remain within their own country.

In Europe, particularly in the former Yugoslavia, the survey says that more than 3.7 million people have been displaced or affected by war and are receiving assistance from the United Nations.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina alone, the survey shows that more than two million residents have been displaced by the conflict. The survey says that by the end of 1996, approximately half of Bosnia's pre-war population of 4.4 million persons still remained displaced by the war.

The survey estimates that overall, about one million people are currently displaced within Bosnia; more than 425,000 are living in other parts of the former Yugoslavia, and more than 600,000 are living in other European countries.

According to the survey, only about 250,000 displaced persons from Bosnia and Herzegovina returned to their homes by the end of last year, although the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) had anticipated that at least 900,00 people would return.

The survey also shows that in Croatia, as of November 1996, there were more than 167,000 refugees, almost all from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The survey estimates about 114,000 of them remain internally displaced within Croatia. Most are said to be ethnic Croats who fled their homes in the Krajina and eastern and western Slavonia when ethnic Serbs took control of these regions in 1991.

In Russia, the survey indicated that by the end of 1996, the fighting in Chechnya left an estimated 350,000 persons displaced. Overall, the survey says that more than 600,000 people have been displaced since the Chechen conflict started, most required assistance from the Federal Migration Service (FMS) of Russia.

Conflicts in the Caucasus are also mentioned in the survey as having caused the displacement of more than 1.5 million people.

The survey says that by the end of 1996, there were an estimated 50,000 internally displaced persons and 150,000 refugees living in Armenia. Of those refugees, 22,000 were from the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and nearly all the rest from other locations in Azerbaijan.

According to the survey, approximately 20,000 refugees in Armenia remain in temporary accommodations such as dormitories, hotels, resorts and makeshift shelters. Another 42,000 live in houses in villages abandoned by Azeris during the 1988-94 conflict, with the rest living in private accommodations.

In Azerbaijan, the survey says there were more than 250,000 refugees and 550,000 internally displaced persons in 1996. According to the Azeri government, the largest segments were 197,000 ethnic Azeris from Armenia and 52,000 Meskhetin Turks from Uzbekistan.

The survey also says that many of the internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan live in "very poor conditions" in accommodations ranging from boarding houses and student hostels to railroad cars and unused factories. The study says approximately 55,000 persons are in camps run by humanitarian organizations.

In Georgia, the survey says an estimated 285,000 persons remained internally displaced by the end of last year. Of these, it is estimated that 261,000 are from the Abkhazia region, and another 11,000 were from South Ossetia. According to the UNHCR, the largest concentration of displaced persons in Georgia was in the city of Samegrelo, followed by Tbilisi.

The survey also listed Central Asia as another hotbed of refugee activity.

In Kazakhstan, the survey estimated that by the end of 1996, there were some 14,000 refugees. This includes 6,000 refugees from Chechnya, 6,000 from Tajikistan and 2,000 from Afghanistan.

In Kyrgyzstan there were nearly 17,000 refugees registered by the end of 1996. The vast majority were from Tajikistan and were mostly ethnic Kyrgyz. The remainder of the refugees came from Russia (including Chechnya), Afghanistan, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

The survey says that as a result of renewed fighting in the Gharm Valley and Tavildara regions of Tajikistan, more than 34,000 persons were newly displaced there last year. This is in addition to the 17,000 persons already considered displaced due to earlier fighting.

According to the survey, Tajiks fled abroad in large numbers. By the end of last year there were 18,900 Tajiks refugees in Afghanistan; 16,700 refugees of mostly ethnic Kyrgyz origin and additional 28,000 unregistered Tajiks considered economic migrants in Kyrgyzstan; 20,000 Tajik refugees in Turkmenistan; 30,000 Tajiks of mostly Uzbek ethnicity in Uzbekistan; and 6,000 Tajik refugees in Kazakhstan.

Russia reported more than 20,000 new refugees from Tajikistan in 1996, bringing the total number of Tajik refugees in Russia to more than 200,000.

In Turkmenistan, the survey shows that the nation hosted an estimated 20,000 refugees from Tajikistan, 2,000 from Afghanistan, and smaller numbers from Iran and Azerbaijan. However, these numbers are cited by the study as imprecise because Turkmenistan lacks refugee registration and status determination procedures.

In Uzbekistan, some 40,000 refugees were registered in 1996. About 30,000 of them were Tajiks of mostly Uzbek ethnicity, 8,000 Afghans, and several thousand others from various countries in the former USSR.

Despite the high numbers of refugees worldwide, the study concludes that more nations are turning their backs on refugees by making it harder for them to enter or seek asylum, or by forcibly repatriating persons. The study particularly criticized Germany and Croatia for forcibly repatriating Bosnian refugees during 1996.

Bill Frelick, assistant editor of the World Refugee Survey, told RFE/RL that the purpose behind the annual survey is to bring world attention to the plight of refugees in the hopes that the international community will mobilize in an effort to help them.

"We are different than Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who largely focus on the conditions that produce refugees in their country of origin," he said. "We really focus on the host countries, the places that refugees flee. Essentially what we look at is a denial of refugee asylum, the pushing back refugees at the border and the quality of asylum in the host countries."