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Nearly 14 million refugees worldwide at end of 2006, highest number since 2001

SHARE Nearly 14 million refugees worldwide at end of 2006, highest number since 2001

WASHINGTON — The number of refugees worldwide increased by almost 2 million last year, driving the total to nearly 14 million, the highest level since 2001, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants reported Wednesday.

The rise was due in part to a continued exodus from Iraq, where 790,000 people left last year. Syria took in 449,000 and Jordan 250,000, the private refugees committee said.

Some 80,000 went to Egypt, while the United States accepted 202 Iraqi refugees for resettlement.

"It is time for the world to be shocked," said Livinia Limon, president of the committee.

In Syria, where work permits are hard to obtain, the report said unemployment rates for Iraqi women were over 80 percent and for men above 50 percent. "Iraqi girls as young as 12 engaged in prostitution, and gangs, and even family members trafficked Iraqi women and girls," the report said.

Limon, at a news conference, criticized the Bush administration for not accepting more Iraqis. "Whatever opinions of the war, America should not ignore the refugees who stood by them," she said.

The late President Gerald Ford in 1975 set an example that should be followed by admitting 134,000 refugees from Vietnam at the end of the war there, she said. Limon praised Ford as a humanitarian and said he had to fight Congress to admit the Vietnamese.

At the end of 2006, there were 1,687,800 Iraqi refugees. Helping to boost the overall refugee total was that registration in Pakistan revealed an addition of nearly 1 million Afghans, to an overall total of 2,161,500.

At the same time, the number of refugees around the world who are being "warehoused" —denied a right to work and confined to camps — for 10 years or more grew to 8.8 million.

While the overall number of refugees rose last year, the high figure is not unprecedented. There were nearly 15 million refugees in 2001 and 14.5 million in 2000.

Overall, the committee said, the situation for refugees worsened in all four categories it uses for measuring their well-being: physical protection, detention, freedom of movement and right to earn a livelihood.

The best grades went to Canada and Benin, on the west coast of Africa, each receiving three As and one B.

Two countries, Russia and Tanzania, on the other hand, were graded F in all four categories while the United States was given an F for forcible return of Haitians without proper screening for asylum seekers and a D for wholesale detention of asylum seekers.

On the other hand, the United States was accorded an A for freedom of movement and the right to work.

The Arab countries that hosted most Iraqi refugees were criticized for serious violations of their rights, with Jordan receiving an F for forcible return of Iraqis to Iraq.

Historically, Afghanistan is the country that generated the most refugees and asylum seekers, 3,260,300, beginning in 1980, while Palestine generated almost as many, 3,036,400. Iraq was third, with 1,687,800.

The committee describes itself as a 96-year-old non-governmental organization that has served refugees and immigrants, defended the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons.

On the Net:

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants: www.refugees.org