- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2000

The numbers are staggering and fail to express the depth of human misery they represent. People are moving and not because they want to.
More than 100,000 Tibetans, 66,000 Sri Lankans and 15,000 Bhutanese have fled political and religious persecution in their homelands to seek refuge in India.
Nearly 300,000 ethnic Chinese refugees from Vietnam have gone to China.
Yugoslavia has nearly a half-million refugees and internally displaced persons.
Germany hosts nearly 1 million refugees, mostly from Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.
More than 1.5 million Africans are displaced.
Some 2.5 million Afghans are living in Iran and Pakistan.
Some 3.6 million Palestinian refugees are scattered in a 50-year diaspora around the world.
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which came into being in 1951 to help settle displaced people after World War II, more than 22 million people in the world today have been forced from their homes by war, famine or other disaster. They are living in camps, seeking asylum, on the run from militants or wandering in deserts.

'A very messy world'

"We have been very busy. It is a reflection of a very messy world," said Sadako Ogata, 73, the high commissioner, who will step down Dec. 31 after 10 years on the job. "I hope we do not have to be as busy during the next 50 years."
Speaking at the National Press Club for the publication of "The State of the World's Refugees: 50 Years of Humanitarian Action," Mrs. Ogata said her job has been rewarding but frustrating.
"The problem is: How do you protect real people, in real danger?" she said.
She said the world's richest countries give money to areas where they perceive a national interest, but are less generous in more remote regions. She underlined the difference between the world's generous "overresponse" to Kosovo as opposed to the scant attention paid to parts of Africa.
"I had a very hard time getting international attention on the refugee issues in Africa, and there was a lot of resentment on the part of African leaders," she said.
She said African leaders charged that the international community gave as much as $120 per refugee for the Kosovo crisis but less than $30 for each African refugee.
Mrs. Ogata dismissed the figures as comparing apples and oranges, but acknowledged that racism may have been part of the problem. She said the West responded to Kosovo because it was seen as being "in Europe's back yard."

Publicity spurs funding

"In a crisis, I get a lot of money. It is on the [television] screen in front of everyone. But when the screen no longer looks at the misery, that is when the funding drops. But that is when I need it most," she said.
Mrs. Ogata said the three places of most concern for her agency today are Afghanistan, Angola and Congo.
More than 2.5 million Afghans are living in camps in Pakistan, Iran and India. Mrs. Ogata said these refugees are reluctant to return to an Afghanistan dominated by the fundamentalist Islamic Taleban, which restricts human rights, especially women's rights to education and employment.
But, she said, the host nations are struggling with declining economies.
"They are tired of having these people and want them to go home," she said.
In Angola, she said, the long civil war created an "enormous internally displaced population and there is a feeling of giving up."
The war in Congo has created an internally displaced population of about 1 million. Additionally, she said, 300,000 Congolese are refugees in neighboring countries, and 200,000 refugees from neighboring countries are in Congo.
"There is a feeling of: 'How much can we do?' " she said.
Mrs. Ogata said one of the more difficult problems that the UNHCR has faced during her tenure was dealing with "militarized refugee camps" in places such as Zaire (once again called called Congo) and West Timor.

Combatants as refugees

"Most of today's wars are internal, and the militarized people are part of the group that has lost the war and moved out with the victims of the war," she said.
She said Tanzania has about 400,000 refugees from Burundi many of them ethnic Hutu combatants who lost the war in their country. She said the UNHCR came under harsh criticism from the government of Burundi, which accused her agency of housing, feeding and protecting terrorists.
Mrs. Ogata's response was to bring in Tanzanian police to prevent recruitment and the use of the camps as a rebel base. The plan worked, she said.
"This is the first year the president of Burundi did not accuse me," she said.
She said the border regions of China, where Muslim populations live on the overlapping fringes of China, Russia and the Central Asian republics, are "a crossroad of potentially very dangerous movement of people." She said that while the UNHCR does not have any projects there, she finds the region fascinating.
"If I were to be a student and starting my studies, I'd start studying that area," she said.
She said her biggest challenge as leader of UNHCR was dealing with one large crisis after another.

One crisis after another

"My 10 years was a rather turbulent 10 years. To have over a million refugees in a crisis, starting with Iraq, going to Yugoslavia, the Great Lakes region in Africa all of them more than a million constantly, was quite a strain," she said. "At least our input made a large difference for a lot of people to survive."
In 1951, the UNHCR had a staff of 33 and a budget of $300,000. Today, it employees more than 5,000 people, has a budget of nearly $1 billion and assists some 26 million refugees. Its early focus was on Europe, but it has grown to assist people in 120 nations.
"The State of the World's Refugees" is a history of the UNHCR's work during the past 50 years and is a chronicle of human misery. It details the problems faced by European refugees right after World War II, how the UNHCR dealt with the failed Hungarian revolt of 1956 and the subsequent flood of refugees.
One section examines the intractable problems that refugees in Africa have faced and are facing from genocide, to the militarization of camps, to AIDS.
After retiring, Mrs. Ogata said, she will return to Japan and write a book.
"I'd like to take a little time to make choices because so far there is not a day that I could freely make choices. It was a very, very stimulating, interesting 10 years."

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