HEADLINES: Refugees

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Up to 7,000 Congolese refugees have fled to Uganda to escape violence in their home country, Ugandan officials said, warning that the influx now posed a security risk for Uganda. Stephen Mallinga, Uganda’s minister for refugees and disasters, said late Tuesday that the rising number of refugees could upset Ugandan residents and lead to clashes over resources. “The people of Kisoro are starting to feel jittery,” he said, referring to the Ugandan region that has been receiving most of the refugees. Hundreds of Congolese nationals are entering Uganda each day, stretching the capacity of border officials who have to screen them carefully, according to Kisoro chairman Milton Mutabazi. “We are relocating about 1,000 refugees every four or five days,” he said. More than 3,000 civilians fleeing violence in the North Kivu province of Congo have entered Uganda since the beginning of this year alone, the United Nations refugee agency says. The refugee influx comes at a time of heightened security along the Uganda-Congo border over concerns that a terrorist rebel group opposed to the Ugandan government is actively regrouping in the jungles of eastern Congo, where several militias and rebel groups operate with impunity. [Associated Press]

Mali is facing its “worst humanitarian crisis for 20 years” due to a combination of food insecurity affecting around three million people, and conflict-induced displacement in the north. The whereabouts and status of some 93,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Mali is uncertain; in addition, 113,000 refugees have fled the north to neighboring countries. Between 175,000 and 220,000 children will be acutely malnourished this year and access to northern Mali and refugee destinations across the border is problematic. The current problems are compounded by a perennial lack of real interest in the Sahel. “Up to now aid agencies have not had great access to these areas… It’s hard to sell this crisis, it’s quite forgotten,” says Helen Caux, West Africa communications head at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The arrival of so many refugees comes at a difficult time for many of Mali’s neighboring countries, where nine million people are facing a serious food crisis after a poor harvest in 2011, with severe malnutrition rates in children of more than 15 percent being reported in some areas. Malians began to flee the north in January when fighting flared up between the Malian army and the Tuareg rebel group, the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad). It says some 113,000 Malians have fled across the border – 40,000 to Mauritania, 23,000 to Burkina Faso (government statistics), and 19,000 to Niger, as well as other destinations. [AllAfrica.com]

Escapees from new uprisings in the Middle East and Africa, combined with a rising tide of people fleeing chronic conflicts like those in Afghanistan and Iraq, contributed to a 20 percent increase in requests for asylum in industrialized countries last year, the United Nations refugee agency reported Tuesday.  Its annual report, Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries 2011, said 441,300 people requested asylum last year, compared with 368,000 in 2010. The report surveyed 44 countries in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia and that the region with the largest increase in claims for the year was southern Europe, where 66,800 people sought asylum last year, most of them arriving by boat in Italy and Malta. Together, the 38 countries of Europe registered 327,200 asylum claims, more than any other region; the figure was a 19 percent increase over 2010. North America registered 99,400 claims, a 25 percent increase. The country of origin for the largest number of asylum seekers was Afghanistan — 35,700, a 34 percent increase from the year before. China, the world’s most populous nation, remained the second-largest source of asylum seekers, at 24,400, followed by Iraq, at 23,500. [New York Times]

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