SO far, it has not been a good year for the world's huge
population of displaced people.
Even though there are vastly more of them, governments around
the world are erecting higher barriers to their entry, according to
two reports issued during the past week.
And if the recommendations offered recently by a congressional
panel are adopted, the United States will be the latest wealthy
nation to trim its immigration quotas.
Meanwhile, US foreign aid, which is aimed at helping create
jobs, lower population growth, and teach farming skills in poor
nations - all part of the effort to reduce the incentive to
migrate, development experts say - is on the verge of taking its
biggest hit in Congress in decades.
"For those who are concerned about refugees and human rights,
it's hard to imagine a more depressing time," says Roger Winter of
the US Committee for Refugees (USCR) based here.
In all, about 125 million people live outside their native
countries, according a report released yesterday by the Worldwatch
Institute in Washington.
By Worldwatch's count, 23 million of them - four million more
than last year - are actual refugees, defined by the UN as people
unwilling or unable to return home because of a well-founded fear
of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political
opinion, or membership in a social group.
The total also includes 100 million legal migrants and 10
million illegal migrants who have left home in search of jobs. Tens
of millions more - including 100 million in China alone - are on
the move inside their own borders, "floating" in search of jobs.
Typically, it is war or joblessness that prompts such vast
population movements. But, as Worldwatch notes, problems like land
and water scarcity, desertification, and rapid population growth
"The immediate cause of departure may be war or poverty, but war
and poverty themselves invariably grow out of years of mounting
pressures that finally force people from their homes," says the
49-page report, "The Hour of Departure: Forces that Create Refugees
But as the number of refugees swells, hospitality for them is
cooling, according to the 1995 World Refugee Report, by the USCR.
Nations that have before welcomed refugees are closing their doors
or sending refugees home before it is safe.
Higher barriers are going up in, among other places, Tanzania,
which has closed its border to Burundian or Rwandan refugees. …