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Last Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
Global refugees 'at 26-year low'
Afghan refugee families returning home from southern Iran and Pakistan eat beside trucks outside the UNHCR in Kabul
More than four million Afghans have returned home since 2002
The number of refugees worldwide has reached a 26-year low, says the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.

More than six million refugees - people who cross international borders to flee persecution or violence - have returned home since 2002, the UNHCR said.

In contrast, the number of people living in refugee-like conditions within their own countries has grown.

As a result, the UNHCR's annual global count of uprooted people rose to nearly 21 million in 2005.

This compares with 19.5 million in 2004.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres called it "good news" that global refugee numbers were now at their lowest level since 1980 - 8.4 million in 2005, down from 9.5 million in 2004.

But, he said, the "bad news is that the international community still has a long way to go in resolving the plight of millions of internally displaced people in places like Darfur, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo".

The UNHCR now counts 6.6 million internally displaced people (IDP) in 16 countries as being "of concern", the report says.

This compares with 5.4 million in 13 countries at the end of 2004.

Colombia has the highest number of uprooted people of concern to the UNHCR, with two million internally displaced. This is followed by Iraq, with 1.6 million, Pakistan, with 1.1 million, Sudan with one million and Afghanistan with 912,000.

Afghanistan remains the country with the highest number of refugees, with 1.9 million in 72 asylum countries.

But this number fell by 21% last year because of a repatriation programme that has helped more than 4.6 million people return home since 2002, the report says.

Repatriation operations also accounted for a decline in refugee numbers in Burundi and Liberia.

Refugee numbers fell by 15% in Europe, which hosts about a quarter of all refugees.

Last year "saw the smallest mass outflows of new refugees into neighbouring states in 29 years," Mr Guterres said.

"We're finding lasting solutions for millions of refugees through voluntary repatriation, through local integration in countries of first asylum and through resettlement to third countries," he added.

Of the 20.8 million people the UNHCR says are "of concern", 8.4 million are refugees (40%), 6.6 million are IDPs (32%), 1.6 million are returned refugees or displaced, 2.4 million are stateless people, 773,000 are asylum seekers, and 960,000 come under "various", including those unable to apply for asylum despite being in need of protection.

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