The number of refugees and others entitled to help from the United Nations’ refugee agency fell 18 percent in 2003 to 17.1 million, the lowest figure in a decade, the agency said on Thursday.
Strong returns to Afghanistan, where nearly 650,000 refugees went back home, and to Angola, and easing refugee crises in the Horn of Africa contributed to the improvement, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Those under the protection of the UNHCR included 9.7 million refugees, 1.1 million recently returned refugees and 4.2 million “internally displaced people.” In 2002, the total figure stood at 20.7 million.
Sudan, where government-backed Arab militias have been accused of ethnic cleansing in the western Darfur region, was one exception to the trend, with the number of refugees rising by around 100,000 to over 600,000 last year.
There was also an increase in the number of refugees fleeing fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia.
The number of asylum-seekers, another area covered by UNHCR, fell 12 percent to 995,000 in 2003.