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  UN News // REFUGEE

23 July, 2008


New individual identification cards will improve conditions for 22,500 refugees in Bangladesh, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

“With these cards, refugees will be able to identify themselves as people legally permitted to reside in Bangladesh if they meet law enforcement officials,” Pia Prytz Phiri, country representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said, stressing that the cards are recognized as valid identity documents by the Government of Bangladesh.

The refugee agency also said that the cards, which will replace the previous “family book” system for refugees, will ensure a fairer distribution of aid for people in the Kutupalong and Nayapara refugee camps in the south-east of the country, which are home to Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar in 1991.

Under the “family book” system all members of one family were registered under the identity and authority of the patriarch, with as many as 45 people being listed under a single name.

This system was both unwieldy and open to abuse, according to UNHCR, with books sometimes confiscated by refugee leaders or sold to outsiders who could use them to access valuable services in camps. In addition, it was not always guaranteed that each family member received the food rations they were allocated.

The new cards are being given to every refugee over the age of five, and, in a society in which polygamy is common, second and third wives will be able to get rations for themselves and their children separately from the rest of the family.

“For us, the ID cards are really a milestone in recognizing each and every refugee and their individual rights,” Ms. Phiri said. “They finally exist as individual refugees and are no longer lumped together as a group.”

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12 June, 2008


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that some 300 ethnic Arab Iraqi refugees in Jahrom camp in southern Iran have been waiting since last year for security clearance from the Iraqi authorities before they can return, while another 200 refugees in the camp have also expressed interest in returning to their home country.

Complicated clearance procedures have delayed repatriation for some refugees – until recently applications were sent via Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad for processing. In addition, there have been sporadic closures of the borders at Shalamcheh and Mehran since April for security reasons.

“I used to work in a cement factory for shelter construction,” 50-year-old Iraqi Abdul Karim told the UN refugee agency. “After I registered for repatriation, I sold all my equipment, thinking it would take one to two months. Now we're hearing that security clearance has not come. How long should we wait? My children and I have no jobs. We didn't know it would take this long,” he added.

Mr. Karim is among hundreds of thousands of mostly Shia Muslims who fled persecution under the late President Saddam Hussein's regime and sought refuge in Iran between the 1970s and the early 1990s. Many returned home in the second half of the 1990s.

The fall of the Baathist regime in 2003 led to another wave of returns from Iran, most of them ethnic Arabs.

“Unlike the gradual nature of the influx, repatriation took place overnight,” said Shokrollah Kazemifar, the director-general of Iran's Bureau of Aliens and Foreign Immigrant Affairs in Ahwaz, south-western Iran, near the Iraqi border. “Once they decided to go, they demolished their homes and took everything.”

Gaitrie Ammersing, UNHCR's protection officer in Ahwaz, noted several reasons for this: “Some refugees say the security situation and job opportunities are gradually improving in southern Iraq. They also tell us it is now much easier to obtain Iraqi documents upon return.”

Others say it is getting harder to survive in Iran. “Life is hard here. I work nearby but it's not always easy to find jobs,” said Attaye Heidari, who has lived in south-western Iran's Bani Najjar camp for the last 16 years. “I'm hard pressed and thinking about return. I believe life will be better in Basra.”

More than 18,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran have been assisted home since November 2003, mostly to areas such as Baghdad and the southern governorates. Numbers peaked in 2004, with over 12,500 returns. Some 230 have repatriated from Iran to the north and south of Iraq so far this year.

The UN refugee agency does not encourage returns to Iraq at the moment, due to the fragile security situation. But it provides some assistance to those who insist on going. This includes interviewing them to make sure return is voluntary and providing a cash grant to help them with transport and initial reintegration costs. And recent developments may help speed their return.

“A new Iraqi consul has been set up in Ahwaz, which should expedite the process instead of going through Amman and Baghdad,” explained Carlos Zaccagnini, UNHCR's representative in Iran, during a recent visit to the camp. “It will cost US$25 for each family to apply for security clearance there.”

There are an estimated 54,000 registered Iraqi refugees living in Iran today, the large majority of them living outside camps, in urban areas.

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16 May, 2008


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has provided aid to more than 40,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia who live in precarious conditions in dozens of makeshift settlements west of the capital, Mogadishu.

UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters today that the agency completed the distribution of aid this week to IDPs living along a 30-kilometre stretch of road between Mogadishu and the town of Afgooye.

In total, as many as 300,000 former residents of the capital live in a tangle of some 200 crowded and rudimentary settlements, and this week’s distribution targeted the most vulnerable people within that group.

Ms. Pagonis said it took UNHCR two days to transport the aid 30 kilometres because of the numerous checkpoints set up along the road by both soldiers and militiamen who demand money in return for safe passage.

As part of the aid, which arrived as the annual rainy season began, each family received one plastic sheet, one kitchen set, three blankets and six sleeping mats.

A second round of aid distribution will soon begin for another 40,000 IDPs in Afgooye and on the immediate outskirts of Mogadishu, while a separate but similar programme aims to provide relief to an estimated 12,000 people who fled recently to the seaside town of Marka.

Somalia, which has not had a functioning national government since 1991, has been beset by increasingly brutal fighting this year between Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Institution (TFI) forces and Islamist insurgents, particularly in Mogadishu.

Yesterday the Security Council adopted a resolution deploring the violence and deteriorating humanitarian situation and asking Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to press ahead with contingency plans to deploy a possible UN peacekeeping force to replace the under-resourced African Union force known as AMISOM.

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8 February, 2008


United Nations agencies and their partners are rushing emergency food, medicine and other relief items to assist some 30,000 people who have fled the fighting in Chad and are seeking refuge in neighbouring Cameroon.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that after fighting erupted in the capital, N’Djamena, last Saturday between rebel forces and the army, 20,000 to 30,000 Chadians streamed over the Chari River to Kousseri, a remote town in north-eastern Cameroon.

According to UNHCR, some Chadians started trickling back home Wednesday morning after an uneasy calm returned to N’Djamena. Some were returning just for the day and planning to go back to Cameroon overnight, while others have returned to their homes in the Chadian capital but left their families behind in Kousseri, which is more than 1,500 kilometres from Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé.

“Our teams in Kousseri have observed that there have been a lot of back-and-forth movements in the past two days, but it is too early to say if people are going back to their homes in Chad permanently,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva.

The agency has started an emergency airlift to bring aid to the refugees in Cameroon. By Sunday, two flights carrying 90 tonnes of supplies, including plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans and cooking sets, will have arrived in Kousseri.

The UN World Food Programme is transferring food, including rice, vegetables and oil, from its stocks in the Cameroonian town of Maroua to Kousseri. The agency will also be transporting by plane high-energy biscuits from Accra in Ghana to Kousseri.

Concerned about the risk of epidemics, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has ordered 25,000 doses of both meningitis and measles vaccines.

UN agencies and their partners are preparing to respond to an influx of up to 50,000 people from Chad into Cameroon.

“The situation is difficult, and not yet under control. We are concerned about the fate of the most vulnerable,” said Sophie de Caen, UN Resident Coordinator for Cameroon. “However, food, non-food items and medical supplies have already been ordered, and the first shipments have already reached the refugees.”

Meanwhile, UNHCR reports that the situation in N’Djamena was calm today but the streets remained empty and very few shops were open. “UNHCR local staff who remained in N’Djamena are starting to collect UNHCR tents which were looted from our warehouse and later abandoned by looters in the streets,” said Ms. Pagonis, adding that the agency’s office in the capital was not touched.

In eastern Chad, UNHCR and its partners are continuing to provide protection and assistance to 240,000 Sudanese refugees in 12 camps and 180,000 internally displaced Chadians.

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8 October, 2007


The line between those who leave their homes out of fear and those who chose to seek a better life across borders is blurring, raising new issues for refugee protection, the senior United Nations official dealing with the problem has said.

“When we deal with refugees, we deal with people who are fleeing persecution or war,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres said at a press conference following the conclusion of the agency's Executive Committee session on Friday.

“But we have also more and more people who have to flee for other reasons. We are witnessing situations of extreme deprivation, climate change environmental degradation – together with war, conflict and persecution. It is more and more difficult to distinguish between these different categories of forced displacement.”

He noted that wars are often fueled by scarcity of resources, which in turn can be driven by climate change. “All of these things are more and more mixed together and there is a big challenge for the international community to find ways to deal with the forms of forced displacement that are taking shape in the 21st Century, and finding new and innovative solutions to cope with it.”

In order to respond, the international community must create the conditions for protection to be more easily delivered, along with “more meaningful possibilities for legal migration and more meaningful development cooperation policies addressing the pressing needs of some areas of the world that have become particularly vulnerable,” he said.

While UNHCR is not a migration agency, distinguishing between those who are forced to flee and those who do so by choice is becoming increasingly difficult and is posing an enormous challenge for the international community. Dealing with the complexities of this “asylum-migration” nexus was a key question in the 72-nation Executive Committee's discussions, the High Commissioner said.

“In these mixed flows, how can we guarantee that we detect the people in need of protection, and that those people in need of protection are granted physical access to asylum procedures and fair treatment of their asylum claims?”

While governments have a right to manage their borders, the agency said that should not create obstacles for refugees deserving of protection under international law. It warned that around the Mediterranean, in the Gulf of Aden and in other parts of the world, a lack of legal routes meant increasing numbers of people were falling prey to smugglers and human traffickers, with dramatic and often deadly results.

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11 September, 2007


Some 25,000 to 30,000 Congolese refugees remain on the Ugandan side of the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after fleeing last week’s escalation in fighting among the Congolese army, renegade troops and rebels, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

“They are staying close to the border, keen to go back as soon as the situation improves,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva, noting that the situation in the DRC’s strife-torn North Kivu province has somewhat calmed since last Friday.

UN agencies reported then that the upsurge in fighting was hampering efforts to deliver food aid to tens of thousands of people driven from their homes, but Mr. Redmond said the calm had allowed UNHCR to improve support for some of the estimated 35,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) stranded in the Mugunga area, 15 kilometres west of Goma, the capital of North Kivu.

Fearing an outbreak of cholera because of congestion and a lack of adequate sanitation, water and health facilities, Ugandan authorities have asked the Congolese to either move to the UNHCR-supported Nyakabanda reception centre some 20 kilometres inside Uganda or return to the DRC, Mr. Redmond said.

Inside North Kivu, some IDPs from the Sake area are reported to have returned during daylight, mainly to check their houses, amid deployment of UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) peacekeepers. But most IDPs from Sake and Masisi district continue to put up makeshift huts in the Mugunga area, awaiting more information on security conditions.

On Friday, UNHCR set up the new Bulengo camp for IDPs together with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and non-governmental organization partners and hundreds of displaced have moved from makeshift, overcrowded sites and a nearby school complex to the new camp. The new site can accommodate some 25,000 people under minimum humanitarian standards. Hundreds of families have already started constructing shelters.

“We are planning to transfer pregnant women and children by truck from makeshift camps to the new site,” Mr. Redmond said. “We remain concerned with limited access to other areas in Masisi and Rutshuru districts due to the tense security situation. We fear only a small part of the recent displacement in the North Kivu may be known and that there are other sites where humanitarian assistance has not reached.”

UNICEF is providing aid to about 60,000 people in the Muganga and Minova localities, including clean water, latrines, temporary shelter materials, bedding and cooking utensils. Vaccination against measles and neonatal tetanus is on-going for all children under the age of 14 as well as for pregnant women.

“The main victims of the deteriorating security situation in North Kivu are children,” UNICEF country representative Anthony Bloomberg said. Measles and cholera are growing dangers in the crowded makeshift camps around Goma.

Since December new IDPs in North Kivu are estimated to have surpassed 220,000 and the number continues to grow. In total, there are more than 640,000 IDPs in this eastern DRC province. The eastern DRC remains the most violent area of the vast country, where MONUC has overseen the transition from a six-year civil war to gradual stabilization elsewhere.

On the other side of Uganda, the first two of 40 IDP camps are to be closed today in the northern Lango region as a result of the improved security situation, ongoing peace talks between the Government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and generally improved freedom of movement, Mr. Redmond reported.

Estimates are that some 92 per cent of some 466,000 IDPs in the region at the height of the displacement in 2005 have returned. The camps were established between 2002 and 2004. But the situation is different in the Acholi region where 63 per cent of some 1.1 million IDPs remain in the camps.

“With the continuation of peace talks and continually improving security we expect to see more IDPs return to their homes,” Mr. Redmond said.

At the peak of displacement in 2005, there were 242 camps hosting 1.85 million IDPs. As of the end of June, 539,550 IDPs had returned home and some 916,000 remain in the camps. Another 381,000 moved to the new sites closer to their homes.

UN agencies are also distributing food, vaccines and other aid to those affected by heavy rainfall in eastern Uganda. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is providing a one-month food ration, while UNICEF is delivering basic household items and has begun cholera prevention measures.

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17 August, 2007


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has stepped up efforts to repatriate Sudanese refugees living in Uganda with the opening of a major new return corridor in South Sudan.

The new route, which runs through the Sudanese town of Nimule, links the refugee settlements in Uganda with Eastern Equatoria state in South Sudan.

Some 70 per cent of the 160,000 Sudanese refugees living in a string of 11 camps in Uganda are from Sudan’s Central and Eastern Equatoria States.

A first convoy carrying 133 Sudanese refugees from two camps in Uganda’s Hoima district arrived last Wednesday in Nimule.

“People [in the convoy] were very happy to be back,” said Chris Hamm, head of the UNHCR team in the town of Nimule, which is located in Magwi County.

Until recently, UNHCR was not able to operate in Magwi due to activities by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the area. However, improved security conditions following an LRA withdrawal from the area several months ago have encouraged refugees to return.

“Since March this year, no security incident attributed to LRA or other armed groups has been reported in Nimule or Magwi. Many of the displaced people have started to return to their villages,” Hamm noted. “We feel that the situation is gradually conducive for repatriation.”

The opening of a third return corridor was agreed on at a meeting in Kampala last May between UNHCR and the Governments of Uganda and Sudan amid improving security on both sides of the border. The other routes from Uganda are Moyo–Kajo Keji and Arua–Yei–Juba.

With the additional return route now open, UNHCR expects growing numbers of Sudanese to opt for return this year.

Some 157,000 Sudanese refugees have so far returned to South Sudan and Blue Nile state since the launch of voluntary repatriation to Sudan in December 2005.

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23 May, 2007


The Security Council and the United Nations human rights chief today added their voices to mounting UN concern over the fate of civilians caught in the fighting between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam gunmen at a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon.

In a statement to the press read out by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad of the United States, which holds the rotating presidency this month, Council members expressed deep concern at the violence at Nahr el-Bared camp, where more than 60 people have been killed and numerous others injured since clashes erupted on Sunday.

The statement called the actions of the Fatah al-Islam gunmen “an unacceptable attack on Lebanon’s stability, security and sovereignty” and stressed the need to protect and provide aid to the camp’s civilian population.

Nahr el-Bared is home to nearly 31,000 people, including about 8,000 classified by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as special hardship cases. About 10,000 have now fled to the nearby Beddawi refugee camp or to a stadium in the city of Tripoli, where UNRWA is spearheading aid efforts.

In a separate statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said she was distressed by the reports of civilian deaths and injuries, adding that all sides to the fighting have an obligation to exercise precaution and protect civilians.

“The protection from attack for humanitarian workers and medical personnel and their unrestricted access to civilians are also guaranteed under the principles of international humanitarian law,” her statement noted.

“The shelling of an UNRWA convoy yesterday is unacceptable,” she added, referring to the attack against a group of six vehicles from UNRWA that was attempting to deliver and distribute supplies such as milk, bread and medicines to the besieged civilians.

No UNRWA staff members were killed, but UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told reporters today that some civilian bystanders were casualties. Three vehicles were also badly damaged and some of the humanitarian supplies were destroyed.

Mr. Holmes and UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd said they acknowledged the Lebanese army’s need to deal with the Fatah al-Islam gunmen, but wanted them to act with maximum restraint when operating in camp areas with civilians.

They called for humanitarian workers to be granted safe access to the camp so that they can assess and attend to the dead and injured and establish safe corridors for those wanting to flee.

In response to questions, Ms. Koning AbuZayd said Palestinian residents of the camp – which is self-policed – had told UNRWA staffers that the Fatah al-Islam gunmen were foreign nationals unconnected to them.

Today’s Security Council statement also condemned the latest bomb attacks in Beirut, which have led to the death of one person and several injuries.

The 15-member panel “welcomed the determination of the Lebanese Government to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of those and other terrorist attacks. There must be no impunity for such heinous attacks.”

Noting that the Council of the Arab League had also condemned the attacks, Council members “reiterated their unequivocal condemnation of any attempt to destabilize Lebanon, and underlined their readiness to continue to act in support of the legitimate and democratically elected Government of Lebanon. They appealed to all Lebanese to continue to maintain national unity in the face of such attempts to undermine the country’s stability.”

Today’s statements follow similar remarks yesterday from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNRWA’s Director in Lebanon Richard Cook, who each voiced grave concern about the situation inside Nahr el-Bared for civilians and on the attack against the convoy.

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18 May, 2007


More than 140,000 southern Sudanese refugees have returned home since the north-south civil war ended at the start of 2005, but almost twice as many remain in neighbouring countries, the United Nations humanitarian arm reported today.

In its latest update on the situation in southern Sudan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said of the approximately 143,500 refugees that have returned so far, more than 61,400 were directly helped by either the UN or its partner agencies.

This year alone some 35,380 refugees have returned as the south continues to slowly rebuild in the wake of the comprehensive peace agreement that ended one of the continent’s longest civil wars. The UN aims to repatriate 102,000 refugees in 2007.

But about 270,000 refugees are still outside Sudan, OCHA reported, living in Uganda, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea or Egypt.

The UN, the Sudanese Government and the Government of Southern Sudan have been working to boost returns of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) under a joint plan as part of the comprehensive peace deal which ended the North-South conflict, separate from the fighting that continues to rage in the western region of Darfur between rebel forces, the Government and allied militias.

As many as 850,000 IDPs are estimated to have also returned home to central or southern Sudan during the past two years.

UN humanitarian agencies are also reporting success in their “Go to School” initiative, launched in April last year.

Student enrolment in southern Sudan has leaped from 343,000 during the civil war to 850,000 today, and girls now comprise more than one-third of students. Over 2,500 teachers have been trained, more than 200 new classrooms have been built and another 300 classrooms are being rehabilitated, while school supplies have been provided to all students.

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10 April, 2007


Following last month’s brutal attacks in south-eastern Chad, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that the humanitarian situation is far worse than it had initially estimated, with between 200 and 400 killed and thousands displaced during the offensive possibly carried out by Janjaweed militias from Sudan’s neighbouring Darfur region.

“Because most of the dead were buried where their bodies were found – often in common graves owing to their numbers – we may never know their exact number,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond said at a press briefing in Geneva.

“Many who survived the initial attack – particularly those most vulnerable such as the elderly and young children – died in subsequent days from exhaustion and dehydration, often while fleeing,” he added.

Over 9,000 Chadians from 31 villages have arrived the new Habile camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) since the attacks, joining 9,000 others who fled previous eruptions of violence.

However, the precise number of new IDPs is unclear. Aid agencies are registering new people daily, but there have been cases of previously displaced people attempting to pass themselves off as newly-arrived IDPs to receive additional assistance.

For many of the new arrivals to the Habile camp, this was not the first time they had been displaced, as some had moved several times over the past year. The majority of IDPs are women and children, while the whereabouts of many men are unknown.

Given the rise in tensions among communities, all IDPs were transferred within two days by UNHCR trucks or by their own means to the new Habile camp.

Mr. Redmond said that UNHCR led an assessment mission in Chad on Sunday to Tiero and Marena, scene of the 31 March attacks, and one agency staff member described the situation as “apocalyptic.”

Decomposing bodies were still being found in the area, but the security situation has stabilized with a massive deployment of Chadian military forces to the region, allowing families to return to bury their relatives.

Hundreds of homes had been burned to the ground, and an overwhelming stench emanated from the rotting carcasses of domestic animals, UNHCR said. Most people had little time to pack their belongings, as evidenced by the many essential household goods, food and animals left behind. Many abandoned belongings – left by those who collapsed or died where they fell – were also found along routes used by people to reach safety.

UNHCR said that while much remains to be done, the rapid response of humanitarian agencies has helped to reduce the suffering of thousands of Chadians affected by these attacks. UNHCR and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provided plastic sheeting, soap and buckets to all new arrivals in Habile, and plans are underway to distribute blankets and mats in the coming days.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has provided a 45-day food ration to be distributed by the ICRC, and the NGO Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) has provided drinking water.

Chadian officials have offered their support, based on the gaps identified by aid agencies delivering assistance.

In a related development, representatives from the UN, the Government of Sudan and the African Union (AU) yesterday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia finalized an agreement on the UN heavy support package for the existing AU mission, known as AMIS, in war-torn Darfur. The AU mission has about 7,000 troops to patrol Darfur, where rebel groups have fought Government forces and allied Janjaweed militias since 2003, prompting 2 million people to flee and leading to the deaths of 200,000 others.

As part of a three-phase plan, a proposed hybrid UN-AU force comprising some 17,000 troops and 3,000 police officers will be deployed in Darfur.

Representatives at yesterday’s meeting agreed that all sides will move forward promptly, but consensus could not be reached on one item, and the Sudanese delegation “will further consult and hopes to provide a positive and expeditious response,” according to a communiqué issued by participants.

In New York, a UN spokesperson, asked about the outstanding issue, said she understood that it involved tactical attack helicopters.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) today issued a statement strongly condemning the “unprovoked attack carried out today by unidentified armed men on an AMIS patrol team” in North Darfur. An AMIS soldier from the protection force died shortly after his evacuation from the injuries he sustained during the attack, while two others were seriously injured.

The mission said it “looks forward to the outcome of the investigation of the attack announced by AMIS in order to identify the perpetrators and to hold them accountable.”

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2nd April, 2007


After wrapping up a weekend trip to Baghdad to find ways to bolster humanitarian support for the millions uprooted by the conflict in Iraq, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is in Bahrain today, as part of a mission to the Middle East to strengthen the agency’s partnerships with Gulf nations and the Muslim world in general.

In Baghdad, Mr. Guterres held talks with top officials, stressing that the Iraqi Government must take control of the international effort to address the needs of the estimated 1.9 million people who are displaced within the country and an additional 2 million who have fled their homeland.

“The clear engagement of the Iraqi Government in support of their own citizens living in the neighboring countries is a vital element not only in alleviating their plight, but as an instrument to reinforce the links of Iraqi refugees with their own country and preparing for their voluntary return when conditions allow,” Mr. Guterres said. “UNHCR is ready to cooperate with the Iraqi Government to facilitate the most effective forms of cooperation.”

Among others, he met with Presidnet Jalal Talibani, Vice President Tarik al-Hashemi, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bollani and Minister of Displacement and Migration Abdul-Samad Rahman Sultan.

The High Commissioner also briefed the Iraqi officials on the upcoming UNHCR-backed international conference, scheduled to be held in Geneva on 17-18 April. Almost 200 Governments have been invited to the high-level meeting which aims to create a global effort to find a humanitarian solution for those uprooted by the conflict in Iraq.

Following his meetings with Iraqi authorities, the High Commissioner announced that UNHCR would bolster its international presence in Iraq and also increase activities in the country.

Currently, UNHCR has seven offices in Iraq to facilitate humanitarian programmes, and the agency’s work inside the country is primarily carried out by national staff members.

Approximately 1.2 million Iraqis are residing in Syria while another 750,000 are in Jordan, putting a strain on the resources of host countries dealing with the influx of refugees.

UNHCR has urged the international community to share the burden borne by the States sheltering Iraqi refugees through several avenues, including supporting the work of the agency and other humanitarian partners in the region, giving bilateral aid to governments and assisting in resettling the most vulnerable refugees.

On Sunday, High Commissioner António Guterres stopped in Qatar, and he will be in Bahrain until tomorrow evening when he travels to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Mr. Guterres will then move on to Dubai on Thursday.

The High Commissioner’s Middle East trip is a continuation of his last visit to the region in early February when he went to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

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30 March, 2007


After a five-month hiatus caused by a ship breakdown, the United Nations refugee agency has resumed repatriating Liberians by sea this week, sending more than 200 refugees back to their homeland from neighbouring Nigeria and Ghana.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also charters commercial flights to aid Liberians returning home, as well as helping refugees repatriate by road, the agency’s spokesperson William Spindler told reporters in Geneva today.

Repatriation by sea had been on hold since last October given the malfunctioning of a chartered ship and the difficulty in finding another one.

The Panamanian ship Kikiaki 1 left Nigeria on 22 March with 167 Liberians on board, stopping in Ghana to pick up an additional 47 refugees before arriving in Monrovia on 24 March. There, all refugees were given assistance packages including four months worth of food rations and a transport allowance to their final destination within the country.

“We expect to repatriate some 60,000 refugees from the camps in the region before the end of the organized repatriation, scheduled for the end of June this year,” Mr. Spindler said.

Since the start of the organized voluntary repatriation scheme in October 2004, UNHCR has helped more than 94,000 Liberians return to their country and expects that number to grow to 100,000 by early May.

“With the end of the large-scale organized repatriation in sight, it is imperative to ensure that Liberian refugees wishing to return home have the opportunity to do so,” he said. “With the cut-off date just months away many are turning up to register for repatriation.”

There are over 104,000 Liberian refugees in West Africa, with more than 36,000 in Ghana, 26,000 in Côte d’Ivoire, 20,000 in Sierra Leone, 16,000 in Guinea, 5,000 in Nigeria and the rest in other countries in the region.

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06 March, 2007


The United Nations refugee agency today launched a $56.1-million appeal to help more than 125,000 southern Sudanese refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) return home this year and reintegrate into their communities in a region where two decades of civil war uprooted some 4.5 million people.

Since a peace deal was signed in January 2005 between the Sudanese Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA), an estimated 102,000 refugees have already returned home, including 32,400 under the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) voluntary repatriation programme. An estimated 850,000 IDPs have also returned to south Sudan, mostly using their own means.

“Against a backdrop of landmines, human rights abuses and the almost total destruction of infrastructure and services, ensuring return and reintegration in safety and dignity and contributing to rebuilding economic, social, civil and political life are major undertakings, not just for UNHCR but for all partners involved,” the agency said in launching the appeal.

“Despite considerable achievements during the past two years, many receiving communities are still struggling to absorb returnees.”

This year’s appeal aims to assist the return from nearby countries of 102,000 refugees and 25,000 IDPs, providing returnees with reintegration packages, rehabilitating health clinics and schools, and improving shelter and sanitation.

Along with partners and humanitarian organizations and working closely with the Sudanese government, UNHCR will also help to monitor the human rights situation of some 1.8 million IDPs around Khartoum, the capital, and Kassala state, providing accurate information on areas of origin so they can make informed decisions about returning.

Conditions in return areas, including security, water, health and education are major factors for refugees and IDPs deciding to go home. As part of the joint UN work programme for 2007, UNHCR plans to rehabilitate and construct 65 boreholes, and rehabilitate 60 health clinics and 30 schools in areas of high refugee return.

Last year, UNHCR received more than $63 million for its south Sudan operations.

In a related development today, the agency today resumed the voluntary repatriation of Sudanese refugees living in north-west Uganda after it was halted in mid-January because of an outbreak of meningitis. The disease has now been contained.

When the peace agreement for southern Sudan was signed, there were an estimated 6.7 million IDPs in Africa’s largest country, including 2 million from the separate conflict in the western Darfur region, and some 550,000 refugees in neighbouring countries.

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12 February, 2007


United Nations humanitarian agencies warned today that urgent action is needed to improve the health conditions in Sahrawi refugee camps in south-western Algeria, home to some 90,000 people, where acute malnutrition is on the rise and many pregnant and lactating women are suffering from anaemia.

A joint assessment mission to five camps by specialists from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP), which concluded last week, found that many of the refugees were experiencing dire health conditions.

The team issued a series of recommendations following the visit, calling for such measures as more varied diets for the refugees; supplementary nutrition for young children and pregnant and lactating mothers; better monitoring of food distribution; the addition of wheat soy blend to the general ration; and awareness-raising exercises about nutrition, water handling and hygiene.

UNHCR senior desk officer Janak Upadhyay, who took part in the assessment mission, said another problem identified was that children suffering from acute malnutrition were being mixed up with victims of long-term malnutrition.

“Acute malnutrition – which can be identified from the wasting of the muscles – can be life-threatening and needs to be immediately addressed,” he said. “Longer-term malnutrition needs a different nutritional approach.”

Most of the refugees have been living in the camps for more than 30 years after they fled to Algeria in the mid-1970s to escape fighting in Western Sahara between Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO independence movement when Spain withdrew from the region.

The Sahrawis live in camps in the desert town of Tindouf, which experiences harsh weather extremes and is devoid of economic opportunities.

Mr. Upadhyay said many of the refugees are especially vulnerable because they depend on UN agencies or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for their entire needs, not just food.

“We met children in the camp who were born and raised there. They are children who don’t know any better than living in a desert, dependent on aid, part of a political problem without a solution in sight. It is very sad.”

In recent years, UNHCR has organized family visits and contacts between Sahrawis in the camps and their relatives in Western Sahara – often the first time they have met in more than three decades.

Last month the agency launched an appeal for $3.5 million to continue the family visits programme.

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30 January, 2007


The United Nations refugee agency today issued yet another appeal to the international community, including neighbouring and resettlement countries, to help find a “humane solution” for Palestinians fleeing persecution inside Iraq.

“Another 50 Palestinians have fled to the Iraq-Syrian border following a traumatic week in Baghdad, bringing the total number stranded at the frontier to about 700,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.

The 50 made the hazardous journey to the border four days after 73 Palestinians travelled the same road following the temporary detentions of 30 Palestinian men by militia in the capital last Tuesday.

Over the past year UNHCR has voiced mounting alarm for the Palestinians, who fled to Iraq following the creation of Israel in 1948. Some received preferential treatment under ousted President Saddam Hussein, but they have become targets for attack since his overthrow in 2003. Nearly 20,000 of them have already fled Iraq but an estimated 15,000 still remain in the country, mostly in Baghdad.

Syria continues to deny access to all Palestinians who are now stranded in two makeshift camps. A group of 356 has been in the no-man's land between the two countries since May, while the second group, which has now expanded to some 340, is stuck in El Waleed on the Iraqi side of the border.

Yesterday UNHCR and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners provided food, water, kerosene, hygienic items and medicine to El Waleed camp. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local NGOs will be bringing more tents and other relief items. A medical team visited the group on Sunday, but was unable to help one Palestinian man who died Sunday night from a severe asthma attack.

“Despite our efforts to help them, the Palestinians continue to live in inhumane and insecure conditions,” Ms. Pagonis said. “We again urge the international community, including neighbouring and resettlement countries, to help find a humane solution for these refugees who are persecuted inside Iraq and have nowhere to go.”

Just last week, the agency issued three appeals on behalf of the Palestinians.

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22 November, 2006


The United Nations today opened the first of seven legal assistance centres for tens of thousands of Burmese refugees living in neighbouring Thailand with the aim of providing justice to the victims of violent crimes that plague the border camps.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) regional representative Hasim Utkan described the centre at Ban Mae Nai Soi camp in north-western Thailand as the first of its kind – “not only in refugee camps in Thailand, but around the world.”

All seven centres – to be funded by Italy and run by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) – are scheduled to open over the next year in three refugee camps housing some 70,000 Burmese refugees near the border between Thailand and Myanmar.

Thailand, which runs the three camps and six others, does not allow refugees to move freely outside and UNHCR officials are not allowed in the camps overnight, when many of the violent crimes, especially the rapes and acts of domestic violence, occur.

A report from the UN refugee agency indicated that more than 350 serious crimes were reported across the nine camps between 2003 and this year, with rape and domestic violence the most common and children often the victims.
In four out of five murders, the report added, no arrest was made, even when the identity of the killer was known.

A survey conducted in September by the IRC found that 63 per cent of residents in three of the camps had serious concerns about their safety, but also little confidence in the Thai justice system, preferring their own traditional procedures instead.

Kirsten Young, UNHCR regional assistant representative for protection, said the centres will act as the agency’s “eyes and ears in the camps. They will also help to channel cases to the Thai justice system, as well as work on building the capacity of the refugee traditional justice mechanisms to handle cases in a manner consistent with basic human rights principles.”

The centres are designed to act as an information hub on human rights, protection and the legal process, and also offer individual counselling for camp residents who have suffered human rights violations or been implicated in crimes.

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14 November, 2006


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today levelled strong criticism at Azerbaijan authorities for forcing a Turkish citizen of Kurdish ethnicity, who had previously been granted refugee status in Germany, to return to her native country.

“In the absence of indications justifying this decision, UNHCR considers her forced return to Turkey to be contrary to Azerbaijan's obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and a clear violation of the principle of non-refoulement,” UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva today.

Non-refoulement prohibits States from returning a refugee or asylum seeker to territories where there is a risk that his or her life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

The refugee in question, whose name was not reported, had spent the last two years in detention in Azerbaijan, initially on charges of illegal entry into the country, and subsequently on the grounds of an extradition request by a court in Istanbul.

“She was extradited despite UNHCR's and the Government of Germany's repeated interventions on her behalf to the Government of Azerbaijan,” Mr.
Redmond said, adding that the agency had only received only a limited explanation from them despite persistent inquiries since the 13 October extradition.

UNHCR, he said, is seeking assurances from the Government of Azerbaijan that refugees and asylum seekers from any country will in the future be treated with full respect of Azerbaijan's international and national legal obligations concerning refugees and asylum seekers.

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23 October, 2006


Growing numbers from among the thousands of Burundians who fled years of ethnic conflict in the small Central African country are returning home from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) following last month’s signing of a peace agreement with the last active rebel group, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

Although convoys organized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are now temporarily suspended in the run-up to the DRC elections on October 29, some 780 of the estimated 19,000 Burundians there have already returned and many more are waiting to go.

The new flow follows the signing on 7 September of a peace accord between the Burundian government and Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL) rebels, who had been active in the provinces neighbouring the DRC, home to most of the returnees.

“Since we heard on the radio that [FNL leader Agathon] Rwasa has signed an agreement with the authorities, we decided it would be safe to come home,”
said Jean Bosco Baranyizigiye, accompanied by his wife and their two daughters. “Not long ago, insecurity was still high in our provinces,” he added after arriving in Mutimbuzi near the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, from Uvira in the DRC's South Kivu province.

The majority of returnees are arriving empty-handed, unlike those returning from Tanzanian camps with belongings and even livestock. They did not live in assisted camps in the DRC, but in villages and the countryside, where they survived from hand to mouth.

When they arrive, they are taken to a reception centre where they are registered by the authorities and given a basic UNHCR assistance package, including blankets, mats, pots and plastic sheeting. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) provides food rations for three months. The returnees are then transported to their place of origin where, in most cases, they will have to find a temporary shelter while building a home for their family.

More than 319,000 refugees have repatriated to Burundi since UNHCR started assisting the repatriation in 2002. Most have returned from camps in Tanzania. Nearly 400,000 Burundians who fled inter-ethnic massacres in 1972 and again from 1993 to 1996 are still in exile.

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17 October, 2006


As the rapid surge of refugees fleeing to Kenya from war-torn Somalia brings the 2006 total to more than 34,000 and fears grow that this could climb to 80,000 by the end of the year, the United Nations has issued an emergency appeal for $35 million to meet the increased needs over the next six months.

“This refugee migration is occurring in a predominantly pastoralist area of Kenya already severely stressed by three seasons of drought, with the majority of pastoralist households already dependent on humanitarian aid,”
the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a news release.

The UN High Commissioner for Refuges (UNHCR) said today it will lead the emergency response in collaboration with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO), along with several non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The long-running Dadaab camp in north-eastern Kenya now hosts 160,000 Somalis in three sites, mostly from previous influxes from a country torn by 15 years of factional wars as well as by drought, “so we would need to find a new location for new arrivals,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.

“In the past two weeks, the arrival rate reached 1,000 a day on several occasions, and 2,000 per day on October 4-5. A total of 14,000 have crossed since September 1,” she added.

The sudden surge comes as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) expands its influence beyond the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and jockeys for power with the Transitional Federal Government in Baidoa and various warlord militias.

UNHCR has suspended operations at the Somalia-Kenya border for the last few days to set up a more efficient screening and registration process. “We're doing this because we’ve seen evidence that some refugees in the Dadaab camps have tried to cheat the system by registering twice so that they can get extra ration cards,” Ms. Pagonis said.

“We have deployed additional staff members to Dadaab to implement emergency registration procedures, which include fingerprinting all new arrivals.”

UNHCR also reported today that a three-year-old girl was diagnosed on Friday with polio in one of the three sprawling camps in Dadaab – the first case in Kenya in more than 20 years. There have been 30 cases of polio so far in Somalia in 2006.

“The girl had reportedly received all necessary vaccinations but still contracted polio,” Ms. Pagonis said. “This new case is quite worrying, and a team composed of Government officials, UNHCR, WHO and UNICEF is on the way to Dadaab today to organize a response to this threat.”

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4 October, 2006


Half of the United Nations refugee agency’s 116 country offices said they had to confront attempts to forcibly return refugees or asylum-seekers to situations where they could face danger, challenging the international system’s “most fundamental protection,” the agency's top protection official said today.

In an address in Geneva to the annual meeting of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ 70-nation Executive Committee, Assistant High Commissioner Erika Feller said forcible return of refugees to situations of danger, known as refoulement, is a breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention and UNHCR has “mounting concern” about such incidents around the world.

She raised other concerns, including that up to 30 per cent of refugee children are not regularly attending school and that less than 50 per cent of refugees in 82 different countries do not have full freedom of movement and the right to work.

At the end of 2005 there were 38 protracted refugee situations involving a total of more than 6.2 million refugees who have been in exile for five years or longer, Ms. Feller noted in her review of international refugee protection issues over the past year.

The Assistant High Commissioner suggested that the international community consider broadening its focus on the so-called “responsibility to protect”
beyond extreme situations such as intervention in genocide, and apply the concept to more pro-active efforts to help governments and humanitarian agencies build capacity to protect refugees, stateless people and the internally displaced.

While acknowledging that the growth in people smuggling, human trafficking and terrorist violence called for extra vigilance, Ms. Feller observed that when a recent opinion column in a leading United States newspaper referred to the cross-border flow of “dangerous people” – including refugees – “there is real cause for concern.”

In 2005, UNHCR offices directly received 90,000 asylum applications – roughly 14 per cent of the total global applications. Worldwide the number of asylum seekers has declined to its lowest level in a decade by the end of 2005, but Ms. Feller said these figures may “mask the changing face of irregular migratory movements.”

Ms. Feller also responded to an earlier statement by an Uzbek Government representative questioning the agency’s effort to block forcible repatriation of Uzbek refugees and asylum-seekers.

While noting that it was “rare indeed” for a state – party or not to relevant conventions – “to contest the authoritative character of the voice of the High Commissioner” relating to refugee matters, Ms. Feller reminded committee members that UNHCR has not only a right but an obligation to protect displaced persons.

“UNHCR does not have to be invited to become involved in protecting refugees. This is an obligation, regularly recognized in this committee, and it is what makes UNHCR's mandate distinct, even unique, within the international system,” she said.

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2 October, 2006


As its four-year programme of voluntary repatriation for Angolans who fled nearly three decades of civil war nears its end on 31 December, the United Nations refugee agency today began transferring some 15,000 people from the Nangweshi refugee camp in western Zambia.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) plans to relocate those who choose not to return home to the Mayukwayukwa refugee settlement, also in Western Province, by the end of October. Although the number of Angolans asking to repatriate this year has been low, it is expected that many of those still in Nangweshi could opt to return home rather than relocate to Mayukwayukwa.

During Angola’s 27-year war, some 500,000 Angolans fled their country and millions more were internally displaced. When a peace agreement was signed in 2002, an estimated 457,000 Angolans were refugees outside the country's borders. Since then, more than 370,000 have returned home, including 123,000 brought back by UNHCR. Many of the rest received UNHCR assistance on arrival.

The closure of Nangweshi, which was set up in 2000 to shelter those fleeing the last convulsion of the civil war, reflects the successful UNHCR voluntary repatriation programme in Zambia, which has helped nearly 64,000 Angolans to return from the country since 2003, leaving only about 29,000 still in camps and settlements.

The relocation to Mayukwayukwa from Nangweshi, with its infertile, sandy soil and seasonal floods, will allow those who opt to remain in Zambia better prospects of self-reliance, especially when humanitarian assistance is eventually withdrawn.

As of July, Zambia was still hosting almost 155,000 refugees, including some 74,000 in camps and the rest settled on their own elsewhere in the country. The great majority of the refugees are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Angola, with most others from elsewhere in the Great Lakes region.

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12 September, 2006

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today announced that it will soon operate a convoy to help some 400 South Sudanese refugees begin their journey home from the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The cross-border, voluntary returns come in the wake of January’s tripartite agreement between UNHCR, Sudan and the DRC allowing the repatriation of refugees in both countries, some of whom have lived abroad for decades.

Agency spokesman Ron Redmond told a press briefing in Geneva today that many Sudanese refugees eager to return home have already made the trip on their own.

Earlier this year, UNHCR organized “go-and-see visits” for community leaders to see their villages, assess living conditions and meet with their home communities and the local authorities.

Tomorrow’s convoy will depart from the Aba area of the DRC’s Oriental Province, where most South Sudanese refugees in the DRC are housed, Mr.
Redmond said.

UNHCR staff in South Sudan will provide returning refugees with basic assistance, including construction materials, household items and a three-month food ration supplied by the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

Regular returns from Aba are expected to continue at a rate of one convoy a week during the coming months.

Overall, 350,000 Sudanese fled to neighbouring countries and four million more were internally uprooted during the 21-year civil war in southern Sudan that ended in January 2005 with the signing of a peace agreement between the Government and rebels, according to UNHCR.

Since the end of last year, the agency has also been organizing voluntary repatriations from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Central African Republic.

A separate, still unresolved conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region has uprooted more than two million people, including more than 200,000 who have fled to eastern Chad.

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1September, 2006


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is voicing alarm about rising violence in Timor-Leste, where the agency today gave the Government 1,500 family-size tents, plastic sheeting and other relief items to help people affected by unrest earlier this year.

“UNHCR is very concerned at the recent escalation of violence in Dili – in and around some displacement sites themselves – as well as within communities,” agency spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

“Burning and stoning of houses in the capital has increased in recent days, as the city has returned to a higher level of violence,” he said. “There appear to be attempts by some elements to polarize communities according to their place of origin.”

An estimated 1,500 homes in Dili were destroyed or significantly damaged by arson during the unrest that began in April, according to UNHCR. Dozens were killed and some 155,000 forced to flee their homes after clashes broke out following the Government's dismissal of about 600 soldiers who had gone on strike.

While many people have returned to their homes in recent weeks, the displaced population remains large. According to current official estimates, there are 67,900 internally displaced persons in Dili while 78,000 people are staying primarily with host families outside the capital.

According to UNHCR protection staff, in some camps, internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in fear of attacks and intimidation, and some of those who have returned to their homes are also fearful of night-time attacks. Mr. Redmond pointed to a “clear need for an ongoing strong and robust international security presence until national institutions can be rebuilt” in Timor-Leste, which the UN helped guide to independence from Indonesia in 2002.

Last week the Security Council approved a resolution creating a new and expanded UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT). Its mandate includes improving security, providing economic assistance, and supporting next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. The mission's civilian component will include more than 1,600 police personnel and up to 34
military liaison and staff officers initially.

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16 August, 2006


The voluntary repatriation of Angolan refugees from Zambia has resumed, providing them with a final chance to return with the assistance of the United Nations refugee agency.

The first group of 45 refugees went in a UN High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) convoy by road to Ndola airport on Tuesday before being airlifted to Angola.

Both UNHCR and the Zambian Government emphasized that the exercise will close in December, ending the organized voluntary repatriation of Angolan refugees from Zambia.

With only two to three months left before the start of the rainy season, UNHCR has begun road repairs on camp access roads and transit centres. An information campaign is being conducted in all camps to stress to refugees that this is their last opportunity to be assisted under organized repatriation.

Surveys undertaken in several camps in May indicated that some 14,400 refugees wished to return to Angola this year. Since the voluntary repatriation from Zambia started in 2003, more than 63,300 Angolan refugees have been repatriated from refugee settlements in Zambia to Angola. An estimated 29,000 Angolan refugees remain in camps and settlements in Zambia.

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9 August, 2006


Expressing shock at Kyrgyzstan’s extradition of four Uzbek refugees and one asylum seeker back to Uzbekistan, the United Nations refugee agency said today it feared for their safety, stressed that the forced return violated the 1951 Refugee Convention and called on the Uzbek authorities to grant humanitarian access to the deportees.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had already found resettlement places for the four who had fled to Kyrgyzstan immediately after violence in the Uzbek city of Andijan in May 2005 and were part of a group of some 500 asylum seekers, all of whom were later recognized as refugees. Uzbekistan had been seeking their extradition.

“We fear for their safety. This refoulement [forced return] is an extremely serious violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention – which Kyrgyzstan has ratified – under which no refugees should be forcibly returned to their country of origin,” said Commissioner António Guterres.

“What is even more disturbing is that we had secured resettlement places in different countries for the four refugees months ago and had been asking the Kyrgyz authorities to allow us to transfer them.” The Uzbeks were deported by Kyrgyz authorities, through the Dostuk border crossing, to neighbouring Uzbekistan on Wednesday morning.

In mid-June, the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan upheld a department of migration service decision not to grant refugee status to the four while the fifth Uzbek, who was arrested in October 2005 after a request from Uzbekistan, still had his asylum appeal claim pending.

“Since the beginning of these proceedings over the four refugees we have repeatedly asked the Kyrgyz authorities to maintain their commitment to their international obligations. This grave breach is a huge disappointment as the deportees’ lives may be at stake. Kyrgyzstan has failed to protect these refugees,” said Mr. Guterres.

“This is an even greater disappointment given everything Kyrgyzstan has done for Uzbek refugees in the past,” he added.

UNHCR left Uzbekistan in mid-April after a government request in March asked the agency to end its work in the country within one month.

Shortly after last year’s violence in Andijan, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour expressed fears that asylum-seekers and refugees forced to return to Uzbekistan “may face an imminent risk of grave human rights violations, including torture and extra-judicial and summary executions.”

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8 August, 2006


Following an upsurge of violence in Sri Lanka, the United Nations refugee agency has stepped up its efforts to provide assistance to victims of the conflict between the Government and Tamil separatists, but aid workers are still unable to reach thousands of others in need of help.

Since Saturday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been helping many of the 21,000 Sri Lankans who have fled recent fighting in the town of Muthur, where 15 aid workers from French organization Action against Hunger were recently killed execution-style. The incident drew strong condemnation from UN officials that was echoed today by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis, who called the murders “a dark page in the history of humanitarian work in Sri Lanka."

With displaced people taking shelter mainly in schools and mosques, sporadic fighting is still reported to be going on around Muthur. UNHCR staff “can hear gunfire from time to time,” Ms. Pagonis said.

The agency, working through local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), has distributed 1,800 plastic sheets, 2,000 jerry cans and 2,000 mats to displaced people, and more aid is in the pipeline.

But UNHCR has no access to Muthur, “where 4,000 people are said to be trapped, or to Eachchilanmpattai, where some 11,000 people are said to be in dire need of humanitarian help,” Ms. Pagonis reported.

Before the latest outbreak of fighting between the Sri Lankan government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), more than 312,000 people had been displaced within Sri Lanka since 1983, some 67,000 of whom are being assisted by UNHCR.

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1 August, 2006


A group of nearly 300 Liberian refugees has arrived home this week from Ghana aboard a chartered passenger-cargo vessel, according to the United Nations refugee agency, which is supporting a massive voluntary repatriation to Liberia now that it is consolidating democracy following a brutal civil war.

Following medical screening, the returnees proceeded to a transit centre to receive their reintegration packages, which include food rations for four months, blankets, sleeping mats, cooking utensils, sanitary supplies for women, buckets, lanterns, mosquito nets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans and agricultural tools. They will also be given opportunities for skills training.

It was the first such return by sea since the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began in February to actively promote voluntary repatriation of Liberians who have fled across borders, but there have been three other repatriations by ship from Ghana since UNHCR launched its voluntary repatriation programme in October 2004.

The arrival of the 298 Liberians brings the number of people repatriated with UNHCR assistance from Ghana to some 3,800. Others, mainly those with special needs, have gone home by air.

UNHCR has helped some 73,000 Liberian refugees return home from around the region since 2004. The repatriation programme will continue until June 2007. The next planned movement from Ghana will be an air charter for refugees with special needs next week, to be followed by another sea movement the following week.

Ghana hosts some 38,000 Liberian refugees, who form the majority of the approximately 54,000 refugees in the country.

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27 July, 2006


Sri Lanka’s Government and separatist Tamil Tigers should resume peace talks and create the conditions necessary for more than 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return home because they have been enduring a conflict that has lasted over 20 years, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said while visiting the country.

The three-day mission to Sri Lanka, which ended today, was the first by a head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to the island and was intended to underline that only peace can restore normal life, and highlight the agency’s work with IDPs, refugees in all but name because they have not crossed an international border.

“We want confidence to be built in all areas for people to return. This must be based not just on words, but on actions," High Commissioner António Guterres said in the rebel-held northern area of Kilinochchi on Wednesday.

"The only way to solve this is to create conditions for people to find a permanent solution for their lives. We do believe that here there are a lot of people suffering and there is not enough attention paid to their suffering."

A 2002 ceasefire between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who have been fighting since 1983, has been in tatters since April when violence flared again. More than 312,000 people have been displaced in the conflict and UNHCR assists about 67,000 of these in welfare centres throughout the country.

Yesterday, Mr. Guterres flew by helicopter to four communities in northern, eastern and western Sri Lanka to hear first-hand the concerns of some of the displaced, including Tamil Catholics and also Muslims who had been driven out of different parts of the county.

He also met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and representatives of the LTTE to discuss the UN refugee agency's planned activities in the country.

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11 July, 2006


The United Nations refugee agency today expressed increasing concern about the health and welfare of a group of 200 Iranian Kurds stranded at the Iraq-Jordan border since last year, with a senior official saying he feared the group was being manipulated, especially since three of the Kurds were now staging a hunger strike.

“We very much regret the fact that a few individuals are putting the whole group at risk,” said Emmanuel Gignac, who heads the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Iraq operations from Geneva. “We fear that a good part of the group is manipulated by a few who do not realize the tragic consequences their uncompromising attitude can have.”

UNHCR said that the health of the three hunger strikers, who had started their protest in the past two weeks, has “seriously deteriorated” but that refugee leaders have refused the agency’s offers of assistance and medical care, putting the lives of the most vulnerable among them in serious danger.

The Kurds, who are on the Iraqi side of no-man’s land at the border, want to be resettled in a third country and have recently become more vocal, staging demonstrations to press their demands and expressing discontent with their current situation.

They arrived in the area in early 2005 from Al-Tash refugee camp in central Iraq where they had been living for more than 25 years after fleeing the Islamic revolution in Iran. The group fled to the border when the security situation around Ramadi seriously deteriorated last year but were denied entry into Jordan.

“UNHCR has been trying to find a solution, but we cannot force the Jordanian authorities to allow access into their country. Resettlement is unfortunately also not something UNHCR alone can provide,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told reporters in Geneva.

Since last year, UNHCR has been offering the group relocation to Kawa settlement in northern Iraq, where some 1,300 Iranian Kurds are currently living with agency assistance, receiving food and health care as well as education and other services. Mr. Spindler said that in all over 10,000 Iranian Kurds registered with UNHCR are living in northern Iraq, where their local integration continues to progress “without serious security concerns.”

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10 July, 2006


The head of the United Nations refugee agency today urged European and African nations to work together to uphold the rights of refugees in ‘irregular’ migrations – situations where migrants and refugees move alongside each other, often without requisite documentation and with the aid of smugglers.

“While recognizing the difficulties that such movements can pose for States in terms of national and local security, we must ensure that the measures taken to curb irregular migration do not prevent refugees from gaining the international protection which they need and to which they are entitled,”
High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said as he unveiled a 10-point plan on the phenomenon at the Euro-African Ministerial Conference on Migration and Development being held in the Moroccan capital of Rabat.

The people who move in this manner often place their lives at risk, are obliged to travel in inhumane conditions and may be exposed to exploitation and abuse, said Mr. Guterres, noting that States regard such movements as a threat to their sovereignty and security.

The 10-point plan sets out key areas in which comprehensive action is required to address the issues of mixed and irregular migratory movements in a coherent and practical way in countries of origin, transit and destination.

While recognizing that border controls are essential for combating international crime, including smuggling and trafficking, and to avert security threats, the plan stresses the need for practical protection safeguards to ensure that such measures are not applied in an indiscriminate or disproportionate manner and do not lead to refugees being returned to countries where their life or liberty would be at risk.

The plan also identifies the need for training and clear instructions for border guards and immigration officials so they know how to respond to asylum applications, and how to meet the needs of separated children, victims of trafficking and other groups with special needs.

Mr. Guterres said timely solutions were needed for both refugees and migrants, and that refugees in particular should be provided protection and solutions in areas close to their countries of origin, but there was no doubt that migration would continue. “Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants will continue to enter Europe,” he said. “Indeed, the logic of globalization and demographic change is such that their numbers seem certain to increase in the years to come.”

The High Commissioner encouraged European countries “to respond to this situation in a positive manner, by contributing to responsibility-sharing arrangements, by providing protection to those people who need it, and by ensuring that the public debate on asylum and migration issues is conducted in a calm and rational manner.”

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22 June, 2006


Aiming to boost international visibility for the world’s 9 million displaced and refugee children, the United Nations refugee agency has launched an internet-based fundraising campaign to provide education and sport outlets for the youngest among those who have been forced to flee their homes.

These children are “are denied their basic rights to childhood and are left with uncertain futures,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) António Guterres at the launch Wednesday. “Ninemillion.org can help refugee youth by giving them a chance to change their future through education and support,” he added.

Two-thirds of the money raised from the fundraising drive will be used for education projects in refugee camps, with the remainder funding sport and play programmes by the Toronto-based Right To Play organization.

Providing education and sport activities for these children can mean the difference between despair and hope. “By helping refugee children to learn and play we will be helping them, and the world, to have a better future,”
said UN Special Advisor on Sport for Development and Peace Adolf Ogi.

The website features a TV spot with Brazilian football legend Ronaldo and shows short films about young refugees in Azerbaijan, Uganda and Thailand who share a mutual love for the sport.

The bulk of donations for the public-private sector initiative come from Nike and Microsoft.

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20 June, 2006


From remote camps to big cities, from the steaming lowlands of Liberia to the high plateaux of Afghanistan, from floodlit fountains to fashion shows and soccer matches, the United Nations today celebrated World Refugee Day with a message of “Hope” broadcast around the globe by leaders, film stars and refugees themselves.

“Let this Day serve as a reminder of our responsibility to help keep hope alive among those who need it most – the millions of refugees and displaced who are still far from home,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message, underlining this year’s theme.

“For the thousands of people forced to flee their homes each year, escaping with their lives and a few belongings, is often just the start of a long struggle. Once they have found safety from persecution or war, they still face enormous challenges just trying to obtain things most of us take for granted - schooling, a job, decent housing or health care.”

The theme of hope was chosen to highlight the continuing efforts of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners to find lasting solutions for millions of refugees and displaced people worldwide.

“If there is one common trait among the tens of millions of refugees that we at the UN refugee agency have helped over the past 55 years, it's the fact that despite losing everything, they never give up hope,” said High Commissioner António Guterres, who marked the Day on the ground at the Bo Waterside area near the Liberia-Sierra Leone border, meeting returning refugees and displaced people.

“Despite the enormity of their suffering, refugees never give up their dream of home and all it entails ... the fact they maintain that hope, sometimes against all odds, should be an inspiration to us all,” he added.

There are currently 20.8 million people of concern toUNHCR, including 8.4 million refugees, more than 5 million of whom have been in exile for five years or longer.

In a message picked up by TV stations around the world, United States actress Angelina Jolie, a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, urged people to remember those forced to flee their homes. “I'm Angelina Jolie. For the millions of displaced persons around the world, please help keep their hope alive and remember World Refugee Day,” she said in the message, recently recorded in Namibia where she gave birth to a daughter.

In Buta in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a simple man who had not seen his homeland in four decades since he was taken by his fleeing family to Sudan as a four-month old infant, symbolized UNHCR’s work and the Day’s theme.

“I am now 41 and ready to start a new life,” Alberto Imangilikuwa said on arrival at Buta airport. “I am now middle-aged and ready to start new ventures in life,” he added in Juba Arabic, a language he speaks more fluently than his native Lingala. He is one of 648 long-time refugees brought home in an airlift that ended on Sunday.

“Mbira, mbira” (palm tree) Mr. Imangilikuwa and his companions shouted on arrival, overjoyed at the sight of the thick forest surrounding Buta airport. For their entire exile in Sudan, they had never seen the beloved palm trees from which their favourite cooking oil is extracted.

UNHCR agreed to repatriate the group although it does not consider the conditions in the areas of return to be favourable and conducive to sustainable return because the refugees demanded to leave Sudan.

A world away in Afghanistan, UNHCR marked the Day with a documentary film and visits to aid centres in a country that has produced the largest group among the Agency’s total global populations of concern. Since the ouster of the Taliban regime more than four years ago, some 4.6 million Afghans have returned from Iran and Pakistan.

Across the Hindu Kush mountains in Pakistan, where 2.6 million Afghans still remain after 3 million returned home, one of the highlights of the Day was a fashion show of costumes from Afghanistan’s myriad of ethnic groups. Other activities showcased refugee cuisine, music, dances, arts and crafts.

In Geneva, UNHCR’s home base, the city’s iconic 140-metre-high jet d’eau fountain and public buildings around the country were set to be bathed in blue, the UN colour, and World Refugee Day banners were to line the Mont Blanc bridge. Australia was illuminating the old parliament building and other landmarks in Canberra, the capital.

Other countries were hosting a wide range of activities, including film festivals, photo exhibitions, food bazaars, fashion shows, concerts and sports, including lots of soccer in a nod to the World Cup in Germany, with games being played from Côte d’Ivoire to Nepal and from Ecuador to Turkmenistan. There will also be quizzes, drawing and essay-writing competitions, tree planting, seminars and workshops.

Across the Atlantic in the Americas, refugees were set to paint a mural on a wall in the Ecuadorean city of Ibarra, just one of many celebrations in the hemisphere, while in Asia a free Refugee Film Week is under way in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and refugee art is on auction in Bangkok, Thailand, again just two of many continent-wide events.

“The international community owes returning refugees more than just a cooking pot and a handshake when they cross the border,” High Commissioner Guterres said, summing up the day. “We must continue to nurture their return and reintegration and to support the communities to which they are returning.”

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14 June, 2006


The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said today it was “extremely concerned” about the fate of four Uzbek refugees in detention in Kyrgyzstan, who fled their country after last year’s killings in the city of Andijan, following a decision on Tuesday by the country’s Supreme Court which means that all four have now been denied refugee status.

“UNHCR reiterates its urgent appeal to the Kyrgyz authorities to refrain from any action aimed at forcibly returning these four refugees to Uzbekistan,” the Agency said in a press release. The four were arrested following an extradition request from the Uzbek Government.

“UNHCR has secured resettlement places in different countries for the four and encourages the Kyrgyz government to allow them to either remain in the country or transfer them to UNHCR for immediate resettlement.”

UNHCR recognised the four Uzbeks as refugees under the 1951 Convention in mid-2005 and today repeated past assertions that their extradition would violate this Convention to which Kyrgyzstan is a signatory, and also go against international law, including the Convention Against Torture.

“The refugee agency strongly emphasizes the importance of the principle of non-refoulement, under which no refugees should be forcibly returned to their country of origin,” it said.

The four men arrived in Kyrgyzstan in the immediate aftermath of the violent events in Andijan in eastern Uzbekistan in May 2005. They were part of a group of some 500 asylum seekers, all of whom were subsequently recognised as refugees. All the other refugees in that group were evacuated out of Kyrgyzstan by UNHCR in July and September after being accepted for urgent resettlement elsewhere.

Shortly after last year’s violence in Andijan, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour expressed fears that asylum-seekers and refugees forced to return to Uzbekistan “may face an imminent risk of grave human rights violations, including torture and extra-judicial and summary executions.”

The Uzbek Government claimed fewer than 200 people were killed in the unrest. However, more than 450 of the Uzbek refugees subsequently provided testimony to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) regarding the events of 13 May 2005 and an OHCHR report in July concluded that based on consistent, credible testimony, military and security forces committed grave human rights violations that day.

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30 May, 2006


Amendments to Kyrgyzstan’s refugee law could violate the 1951 Refugee Convention, which the Central Asian country has ratified, if they deny access of illegal foreigners to refugee status determination procedures, the relevant United Nations agency said today.

The amendments were adopted without taking into account comments by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on various aspects of the changes despite ongoing discussions since last year, agency spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

He cited specifically a new ‘asylum seeker’ definition, which does not include foreigners who stay in the country illegally and which therefore could breach the Convention if it denied status determination procedures.

Another important amendment concerns the freedom of movement of asylum seekers, who under the new rules will no longer able to choose their place of residence in the country, Mr. Redmond noted. Lawmakers explained to UNHCR that this change was intended to avoid spontaneous settlement of asylum seekers in situations of mass arrival.

“We have prepared comprehensive comments on our concerns about the new amendments which we will shortly share with the relevant ministries,” Mr. Redmond said. “Our office is ready to work with the Kyrgyz government in order to bring the national legislation closer to international refugee protection standards.”

At the same time he reiterated UNHCR’s appreciation for the Kyrgyz Government’s commitment to asylum principles, noting that the country was one of the first regional signatories of the 1951 Convention.

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18 May, 2006


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres has appealed urgently for resources for the desperately under-funded emergency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where he said continuing conflicts in parts of the central African country were taking more lives than did the Indian Ocean tsunami.

“We have a tsunami in the Congo every six months,” Mr. Guterres, on his first official visit to Germany since becoming High Commissioner last June, said at a news conference in Berlin Tuesday with the German Minister for Development Cooperation, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul.

Some 1,200 people in the DRC die daily from conflict-related causes. More than 20 per cent of the children die before their fifth birthday and one in10 die in the first year of life. The refugee agency’s appeal last year for the repatriation and reintegration of Congolese refugees received only
14 per cent of the needed funding, or $10.6 million out of the $75 million required.

Meanwhile, of $14.7 million requested for UNHCR’s programme for internally displaced people (IDPs) in a country the size of Western Europe, only $3.2 million had come in.

The plight of conflict victims in DRC, as the country prepares for historic elections, was one of the “10 Stories the World Should Hear More About”
that the UN Department of Public Information recently spotlighted.

Mr. Guterres also stressed the need to support the new peace agreement in Sudan’s Darfur region and urged the international community “to make sure”
the pact was implemented.

“Darfur is the epicentre of an earthquake that is threatening the whole region,” he said. “If we do not solve the problems in Darfur, the whole region will not find stability.”

UNHCR recently had to scale back its IDP programme in Darfur because of growing insecurity. In neighbouring Chad, meanwhile, the agency is running a large-scale relief and protection programme for more than 200,000 Sudanese from Darfur who live in refugee camps there.

Mr. Guterres said Germany and other European Union (EU) countries were not only important as major donors who fund UNHCR through voluntary contributions, but as countries which maintain strong domestic asylum systems for refugees. He pointed, however, to the sharp decline in the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in Germany as well as other industrialized countries.

He said his Office has high hopes for the German Presidency of the EU, starting next January, adding, “Europe must remain a space of asylum.”

Mr. Guterres returned to Geneva today.

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