Thursday, March 20, 2003

ETHIOPIA: Conference addresses "critical" state of Africa's refugees
ADDIS ABABA, 20 Mar 2003 (IRIN) - Africa's four million refugees are impeding social and economic development on the continent, a conference in Addis Ababa heard on Thursday.

The continent still "bears the scars" of scores of conflicts in the shape of millions of refugees, the two-day meeting was told.

The conference, held jointly by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR), is aimed at raising awareness of the rights of refugees and families who are forced to flee their homes because of wars and famine on the continent.

Ilunga Ngandu, the Ethiopia-based regional head of UNHCR, said that refugees or displaced people are always victims of massive human rights abuses because they have been forced to flee.

"This creates desperation and outflows of too many Africans to exile or internal displacement," he said. "Even when refugees have reached an asylum country, we have witnessed over the years serious violations."

Currently there are some 12 million refugees in the world - four million of them in Africa costing UNHCR around US $1 billion.

Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, is home to some 37,000 refugees from Somalia and more than 90,000 from Sudan.

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