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Global refugee population down by 6% in 1997

SHARE Global refugee population down by 6% in 1997

The global flow of refugees and asylum-seekers has dropped by about 6 percent, partly because fighting ceased in some parts of the world, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees.

The private group's annual World Refugee Survey also found that famine-stricken Sudan has the highest number of internally displaced people - civilians who have been forced by persecution or armed conflict to flee their homes, but remain within their own country.The report noted that the United States led the list of 20 donor countries to international refugee relief agencies in 1997, with $352.9 million in aid. But it ranked 10th on a per capita basis, at $1.32, compared with leading Norway's $12.46.

Among the reasons for the drop in refugees - from 14.5 million people in 1996 to 13.6 million in 1997 - were a letup in the fighting in a number of areas and the repatriation of a large number of refugees to places such as Rwanda and Bosnia, said Bill Frelick, senior policy analyst at the U.S. Committee for Refugees.

In addition to the refugees, the group documented 17 million internally displaced people in 37 countries last year, more than 4 million of them in Sudan. Sudan has been plagued by a 15-year civil war in which southern rebels against the northern, Muslim government have been seeking autonomy for Christians and animists.

"Sudan is a case study in the dangers that can come from having a high number of internally displaced persons," said Roger Winter, executive director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees. "The current famine conditions in Sudan are directly related to the displacement of . . . civilians."

Frelick noted that despite the decline of the refugee population, the condition of many long-standing refugee groups - Palestinians, Afghans and Bosnians - has not changed.

He also said that new flows of refugees were reported last year. For instance, 70,000 Cambodians and 20,000 Burmese have fled to Thailand, 50,000 have gone from Afghanistan to Pakistan and 750,000 Congolese have been uprooted by the civil war.

Frelick said that in the past two weeks, there has been an increase of up to a 100,000 new refugees fleeing Kosovo, where ethnic Albanian rebels are fighting for independence from Serbia. Most of the refugees have remained in the embattled province and have not been able to flee to neighboring Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro.