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Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia conflicts creating more refugees: UNHCR
Richard Towle
Richard Towle, Regional Representative of the UNHCR, says Australia makes a siginificant contribution to global refugee protection. Picture: Suzi Hamilton Source: News Limited

The Australian
Wednesday, June 19, 2013

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THE crisis in Syria and ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Somalia forced more people to flee their homes or seek protection as refugees last year than at any other time since 1994.

A report out today by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has found 7.6 million people were newly displaced in 2012 due to conflict or persecution, with 1.1 million becoming refugees - the highest number since 1999.

An average of 23,000 people a day were forced to leave their homes, becoming displaced within their own country or seeking protection across international borders.

By the end of 2012 about 35.8 million people were flagged as being "of concern" to the UN refugee agency, the second highest year on record - and 48 per cent of the refugee population were women and girls.

"The year 2012 was marked by refugee crises reaching levels unseen in the previous decade," the report says.

"More than 21,300 unaccompanied or separated children, mainly from Afghanistan and Somalia, filed an asylum application during the year, the highest number since UNHCR started collecting such information in a systematic way in 2006."

The report says the conflict in Syria forced about 647,000 people to seek refuge in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other countries in the region.

More than half all refugees come from just five war-affected countries, namely Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. But the report also pointed to major new displacement from Mali, in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and from Sudan into South Sudan and Ethiopia.

And Pakistan remains the country hosting the most refugees, followed by Iran, Germany and Kenya. The UNHCR's regional representative in Australia Richard Towle said the report was a reminder that the "number of refugees and asylum-seekers in Australia remains relatively small by global standards."

"But while the numbers are relatively small, the country still made a significant contribution to global refugee protection," Mr Towle said.

"While the issue of asylum and maritime arrivals of people by boat tends to capture the headlines and often leads to negative public debate, Australia's broader contribution to restoring hope and a safe future for some of the world's most vulnerable people should not be forgotten," he said.

"Australia's annual contribution to UNHCR's global protection programmes is more than $50 million, helping us to provide life-saving relief to refugees in emergencies such as we are currently seeing in Syria, Sudan, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as the protracted situations of refugees from places like Afghanistan and Myanmar," Mr Towle said.

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