A satellite image of a swirling hurricane Men with gas masks and protective suits on The planetary rover Sojourner A large group of refugees huddled together


Refugees &

Increasingly during the 20th century civilians have been victims of warfare. The 1990s saw the number of displaced persons on Earth—refugees, recently returned refugees, asylum seekers, and others—increase by 37 percent. As of the beginning of the new millennium the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees counted 22.3 million, roughly triple the population of New York City, as “people of concern.” These include people displaced within their own countries—forced to leave their homes by the growing number of civil wars and other internal conflicts. More than 93 percent were spread about evenly in three principal areas of strife: Africa, Asia and Europe.

Post-Cold War southeastern Europe remained a theater of ethnic warfare. More than 70 percent of the population of Indonesia’s East Timor territory had fled violence following an overwhelming vote for independence. Thousands of Sri Lankans feared conflict between their government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Millions of Africans had moved to escape killing fields in Burundi, Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In 2000, the largest refugee group in the world remained the Palestinians, who left their homeland, now Israeli territory, during the fight for a Jewish nation in the late 1940s. About 400,000 of the 3.5 million Palestinians registered with the United Nations were officially in Lebanon, though their leaders say only about half of them actually still lived there. Most of the rest had moved to Europe.

The 21st century dawned with little promise of world peace. Africa, the Middle East, and southeastern Europe remained cauldrons of political and ethnic animosities, grimly promising more uprooted people in the future.

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An 11-year-old boy tells of his escape from fighting in Kosovo, Yugoslavia.

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With husbands, brothers, and sons off fighting, women make the best of their situation in a refugee camp on the Kosovo-Albanian border.

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Europe’s huge post-World War II refugee problem led to the creation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which observed its 50th anniversary in 2000.

As of the beginning of the 21st century the countries hosting the highest numbers of refugees were Iran (1.8 million refugees), Pakistan (1.2 million), Germany (976,000), and the United States (513,000).

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