Iraq exodus swells ranks of world’s refugees

/ Source: The Associated Press

People fleeing Iraq have swelled the ranks of the world’s refugees, reversing a five-year decline, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.

As of the end of last year, the world had 9.9 million refugees, a 14 percent increase over the 8.7 million refugees recorded in 2005, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in releasing its “2006 Global Trends” report.

The current total is the highest since 2002, when there were 10.6 million.

The report said the increase was largely due to the situation in Iraq, which by the end of 2006 had forced up to 1.5 million Iraqis to seek refuge in other countries, particularly Syria and Jordan.

But the largest group of refugees were the 2.1 million Afghans still living outside their homeland. After the Iraqis were the Sudanese, 686,000; Somalis, 460,000 and people from Congo and Burundi, about 400,000 each.

The refugee total omits the 4.3 million Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, who are under the auspices of a separate agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA. If added together, the total number of refugees under both agencies is more than 14 million.

The total also excludes some 24.5 million people who have had to flee conflict but remain within their countries and thus are labeled “displaced” rather than refugees under international law.