Academic journal article Refuge

Restructuring Refuge and Settlement: Responding to the Global Dynamics of Displacement

Academic journal article Refuge

Restructuring Refuge and Settlement: Responding to the Global Dynamics of Displacement

Article excerpt

This was the keynote address at the 2012 Conference organized by the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (CARFMS), hosted by the Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS) at York University in Toronto.

It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you today. In the world of refugees and migration, Canada sets an important example globally in terms of its generosity towards the other, its multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, its long-standing and rich tradition of asylum as well as its global refugee policies. This tradition is exemplified not least in its annual resettlement programme and Canada's role as a major donor country to UNHCR. The High Commissioner, and UNHCR as an institution, deeply value and appreciate the contributions that the people of Canada, its lively civil society and successive governments have made over time to the protection of refugees and the internally displaced.

In this address I would like to share with you a number of reflections on the changing dynamics of displacement and possible ways forward--the challenging theme of this Conference.

But before doing so, I think it is important to set out briefly the factual background against which this discussion takes place.

At the end of 2010, there were roughly 16 million refugees and asylum-seekers, including 5 million Palestinian refugees. We have detailed population data on 3.5 million stateless around the world but know the overall population is several times larger which is why we continue to map stateless populations. Refugee voluntary repatriation movements in 2010 were the lowest in 20 years. Only 200,000 refugees chose to return home, against an annual average of over a million in the last two decades. The initial estimate for 2011 is slightly better, at some 530,000 returns. Some 26.4 million people were internally displaced, with 3.5 million people newly displaced during 2011. This is a modest decline in their number, down from 27.5 million in 2010. (1) Last year also saw the emergence of several new situations of internal displacement. In Cote d'Ivoire, violence following the November 2010 presidential elections forced an estimated half a million people to flee their homes. In Somalia, the worst drought in decades aggravated the country's chronic instability and led to one of the worst humanitarian emergencies of 2011. In Mali, the number of those displaced internally has reached almost 150,000 and, according to the Syrian Red Crescent, some 400 to 500 thousand are displaced inside Syria.

In the industrialized world, the year 2011 also witnessed a 20 per cent increase in new asylum applications compared to 2010. However, the increases were not evenly distributed and were evident mainly in the eight Southern European countries, North America as well as Japan and South Korea. For their part, the Nordic countries as well as Australia witnessed a decrease. The USA was the largest single recipient of new asylum applications among industrialized countries, followed by France, Germany, Italy and Sweden. UNHCR conducted refugee status determination in 67 countries, including many countries that are party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and registered some 80,050 individual applications in 2011. This corresponds to 11 per cent of the global total. It is not surprising that the majority of asylum applications in the industrialized world are lodged by people seeking international protection from war-torn countries or those emerging from conflict, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Cote d'Ivoire, Libya, Syria and Somalia.

These figures reflect the various developments the world witnessed last year, such as the paradigm shift taking place in North Africa and the Middle East. Yet the figures in the industrialized world need to be juxtaposed with the numbers in some of the main refugee receiving countries in the developing world, notably Kenya, Ethiopia but also Liberia, Niger and other West African countries, plus Mauritania, owing to last year's crises in Somalia, Cote d'Ivoire, and this year's events in Mali, respectively. …

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