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The United Nations today marked World Refugee Day by focusing on the more than 42 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, and raising awareness of the dilemmas facing this vulnerable group of people. Earlier this week the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released its Global Trends 2011 report, which updates the number of people of concern to the agency, including refugees, asylum-seekers, the stateless and internally displaced people. It showed that a record 800,000 people were forced to flee across borders last year, more than at any time since 2000. The new refugees are part of a total of 4.3 million people who were newly displaced last year, owing to a string of major humanitarian crises that began in late 2010 in Côte d’Ivoire, and followed by others in Libya, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere. [UN News Centre]

A group of Sudanese asylum-seekers and refugees protested outside the Beirut offices of the UN refugee agency on Tuesday, the ninth day of a hunger-strike demanding better rights. The 21 protesters demanded the UN High Commissioner for Refugees “immediately refer for resettlement recognized refugees who fulfill the requested criteria, and fully assist in the regulation of temporary legal status in Lebanon.” They also appealed for improved living conditions in Lebanon, where they also have difficulty finding decent work. Protester Mohammed Abdel Latif told AFP that in Lebanon, UNHCR refugee status is “symbolic” and does not provide them protection. UNHCR spokeswoman Dana Suleiman said there are 584 Sudanese refugees in Lebanon, adding the process of determining who has been cleared for resettlement in a third country is long. [AFP]

Since last week, Bangladeshi authorities have turned back boats carrying more than 800 Rohingyas who were fleeing attacks by members of the Buddhist majority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Bangladesh, which already plays unwilling host to an estimated 300,000 Rohingyas, hasn’t been swayed by pleas from Washington and other governments to let new arrivals in. Bangladesh’s refusal to help these desperate families is, despite its claims to the contrary, a likely violation of its international obligations. While some ethnic groups are granted a form of partial citizenship, the country’s 800,000 Rohingyas lost theirs in Myanmar’s 1982 constitution. They are officially stateless. [NYTimes]

Since 2005, about 60,000 sub-Saharan Africans have surreptitiously crossed the porous border from Egypt into Israel after traversing the rugged desert of the Sinai Peninsula. The rising tensions caused by their presence have prompted the government to announce a tough new policy to stem the influx of African immigrants and asylum seekers. The interior minister, Eli Yishai, has vowed to clear the country of all undocumented immigrants within three years. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contends that most of them are economic immigrants and that they threaten the Jewish character of Israel. On Sunday, he said that all new arrivals would immediately be placed in detention. For now, most of the immigrants and asylum seekers — about 50,000 — cannot be deported, in line with international conventions. They come from Sudan and Eritrea, countries considered too dangerous for their repatriation, and so they are afforded temporary collective protection in Israel. That protection was recently lifted for immigrants from South Sudan. [NYTimes]


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