UNHCR: Africa faces refugee crisis
June 20, 1999
GENEVA (CNN) -- The U.N. refugee agency observed African Refugee Day on Sunday in an attempt to draw attention to the millions of displaced Africans facing critical conditions.
According to figures from the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, since the beginning of 1999, there have been more than 6.5 million "people of concern to the UNHCR" in the African continent.
That figure includes 3.3 million African refugees, 2.1 million internally displaced Africans and 1.1 million former refugees who have recently returned home.
In one of her first official visits this year, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata traveled to Africa in February to assess the refugee crisis in several regions of the continent.
Her mission began in Guinea, where thousands of refugees from Liberia and Sierra-Leone have taken refuge. The UNHCR reports that Guinea's government has complained of economic and security "strains" caused by the 400,000 refugees from both countries.
In northwest Africa, the UNHCR says it is working on the repatriation of 350,000 Eritreans, 300,000 Ethiopians and more than 300,000 Sudanese refugees. Fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea in recent months has triggered a large-scale displacement of people in those countries.
In the Great Lakes region, ethnic and civil disputes have caused a refugee crisis. During the first four months of 1999, more than 14,000 Rwandan refugees were forced out of the Democratic Republic of Congo after the government declared them a threat to the nation's security.
The UNHCR reports that skirmishes between Congolese rebels and the government has caused a constant flow of refugees from Congo into Tanzania on a daily basis since August. The number of Congolese refugees had reached 62,000 by May, the UNHCR said.
Angola, which has endured more than two decades of civil war, has sent more than 300,000 refugees to neighboring countries, and 1.5 million more are internally displaced. Land mine accidents are common for Angolans as they attempt to cross unmarked mined fields and roads.
Most of the country has been cut off from international aid because of the civil war, and thousands are trapped in makeshift camps where the food supply is limited.
Instability has also caused alarm in Southern Africa. In Zambia, UNHCR staff have remained on alert since early March, registering more than 25,000 refugees.
Guinea-Bissau strife strands civilians, peacekeepers
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