NEWS

UNHCR rings the alarm bells

GENEVA – Some 6 million people around the globe are trapped in mainly poor countries as long-term refugees, many facing deprivation that feeds crime and human trafficking, a senior United Nations official said yesterday. The world body’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said there were at least 30 crisis areas around the world where people had been forced to flee into neighboring states and had not been able to return home for many years. «The burden of hosting these refugees falls almost exclusively to developing states. It is important to recognize that the international community as a whole has not done enough to share that burden,» he told a conference. «The problem of protracted refugee situations has reached enormous proportions,» Guterres declared in a separate paper for participants in the annual conference held by his agency, the UNHCR. Many of the refugees could not go home because their countries of origin were racked by civil wars or affected by gross human rights violations. Social ills «Packed into overcrowded settlements, deprived of an income and with little to occupy their time, these refugee populations are afflicted by all kinds of social ills, including prostitution, rape and violence,» he said. «Unsurprisingly, and despite the restriction placed upon them, many take the risk of moving to any urban area or trying to migrate to another country, putting themselves in the dangerous hands of human smugglers and traffickers.» Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, told the conference that the 6 million were people who had spent more than five years – and many of them several decades – in limbo in exile, mainly in Africa and Asia. The total excluded the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have lived in camps around the Middle East since the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and the others who had followed after later conflicts. The UNHCR identifies the major five long-term refugee situations as that of Afghans in Pakistan and Iran, Muslim Rohingyas from Myanmar in Bangladesh, Eritreans in eastern Sudan, Burundians in Tanzania, and ethnic Serbs from Croatia and Bosnia in Serbia. Growing pressure Tanzania’s prime minister, Mizengo Pinda, said in a keynote speech to the gathering that his country had been hosting tens of thousands of refugees from Burundi since the early 1970s. But in the mid-1990s, with political crises and new conflict in Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it had seen more than a million people flood in over a very short time, straining Tanzania’s infrastructure to breaking point. Amid the current global economic crisis, Pinda said, «it is an undeniable reality that developing countries are facing shortages and higher costs of social services such as food, water, health and educational facilities. Thus, any influx of refugees creates more pressure on those facilities which ultimately increases the unbearable burden that cannot be accommodated by the host country.» Member states violating EU right of movement laws BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union governments are violating the cornerstone rights of Europeans to move and reside freely in the 27-nation bloc, the EU’s top justice official said yesterday. EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot said «not one» country fully implements 2004 rules and threatened court action. The 2004 regulation was supposed to make it easier for the bloc’s citizens to live in other European Union countries by cutting red tape. It extended their rights to be reunited with other family members who are not citizens of EU nations and limited member states’ abilities to expel non-national Europeans. But Barrot said EU governments had been ignoring the regulation, and even adding extra bureaucratic conditions on Europeans moving to their countries. The European Commission said only Cyprus, Greece, Finland, Portugal, Malta, Luxembourg and Spain have actually «correctly adopted» more than 85 percent of the 2004 law. Several EU nations have been critical of the rights. Denmark and Ireland are demanding a redrafting of the rules, complaining they have loopholes allowing illegally arranged marriages to increase, a claim EU officials reject. Italy also had problems with the rules when it tried to kick out citizens from EU member Romania. Italy says many of the Romanians in Italy are Gypsies and are causing a rise in crime.