Published: June 18, 2008
<nyt_text> </nyt_text>GENEVA — The number of refugees crossing borders to escape conflict and persecution increased last year, and threatens to continue to grow because of factors like climate change and scarce resources, the United Nations refugee agency warned Tuesday.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees oversaw the care of 11.4 million refugees in 2007, including about 400,000 people who were enduring conflict in their own countries, the agency said. The total was 9.9 million people in 2006.
The numbers were modest compared with the 17.8 million refugees during the Balkan wars in 1992, but after a steady drop from 2001 to 2005 they represent a worrisome trend, the agency said.
“We are now faced with a complex mix of global challenges that could threaten even more forced displacement in the future,” António Guterres, the high commissioner, said in a statement.
The challenges include armed conflicts, bad governance, environmental degradation and extreme price increases for basic goods that have hit the poor the hardest and created instability in many places, Mr. Guterres said.
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan accounted for more than half of the world’s refugees in 2007. More than two million Iraqis have sought refuge in Syria and Jordan, and three million Afghans have fled to Pakistan and Iran, the refugee agency said.
More than 45,000 Iraqis went home in 2007, some of them driven by the hardship of life in refugee camps, but 885,000 left the country for reasons that included violence, sectarian conflict and economic difficulty.
More than four million Afghans have returned home voluntarily in the past five years, and 374,000 went back in 2007. But the rate of return has diminished, partly because of insecurity but also because many of those inclined to return have already done so, the agency said.
The latest statistics contradict a number of misconceptions about refugee patterns, officials said, starting with the notion that Western countries shelter most fugitives from conflict.
Instead, 80 percent of refugees remain in developing countries in the immediate vicinity of their own countries, the agency said.
Pakistan accepted more than 2 million refugees in 2007, and Syria 1.5 million. The United States sheltered 281,000, according to the agency’s data. Developing countries are increasingly reluctant to shoulder the burden of refugees and are imposing stricter criteria for acceptance.
“It’s becoming a more and more inhospitable world for refugees,” said William Spindler, an agency spokesman.