The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said that 2013 has brought massive fresh flows of refugees.
Addressing the opening session of the UNHCR’s governing Executive Committee’s annual meeting, Guterres said more people have been forced to flee from their homes by a string of displacement crises than at any time in nearly two decades.
“This year alone, over 1.5 million refugees have left Syria, and hundreds of thousands fled their country across Africa – from the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Mali and Somalia,” Guterres said.
“As I address you today, more people have been forced to flee their homes than at any time since the Rwandan genocide [in 1993]. If refugees and internally displaced persons were a nation, they would make up one of the world’s 30 biggest countries,” he continued.
The numbers of refugees are placing huge strain on UNHCR operations.
“UNHCR and its partners are doing everything possible to respond, but we are stretched to the limits by this combination of an emergency unparalleled in the recent past, and the persistence of other crises around the world,” the High Commissioner exaplined.
In his address, the High Commissioner also expressed concern about the dangers faced by refugees, asylum-seekers and others travelling in mixed migratory flows.
“These persons are often forced to rely on the services of smugglers, exposing them to harassment and exploitation, beatings, the risk of trafficking, or even death,” he said.
He warned that the institution of asylum was under increasing pressure, including in some countries of the developed world. Refugees and asylum-seekers often find they are obstructed at borders or face poor treatment if admitted.
“Substandard reception arrangements, the disproportionate use of detention, including as a deterrent to future arrivals, and a lack of adequate burden-sharing arrangements among states are our main concern,” he said. “In addition, not all states are doing enough to fight intolerance, racism and racially-motivated violence, which pose serious risks to the safety of refugees and other foreigners.” Guterres added.