Wealthy countries must do more to help refugees: UN official

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Developing countries host 80 percent of the world's refugees and need much more help from wealthy nations, a senior UN official said on Friday.

"Countries of the developing world host 80 percent of all refugees. This represents a very heavy burden on the economy of these societies," said Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"In most situations, host countries are left alone (to deal with refugees)," he said during a news conference.

Guterres called for "a very serious commitment to work together to address the protection gaps that still exist for people on the move", referring to people displaced by wars, climate change and resource shortages.

"The international community needs to find innovative ways to address this big, catastrophic event," he said.

Guterres also criticised anti-immigration rhetoric in the European Union, which he said was "irrational".

EU member states received a total of 247,000 asylum requests in 2009, compared to 220,000 in South Africa alone, Guterres said.

"The alarm over the number of asylum seekers in Europe is unjustified if one compares it with the situation on the global level," he said, calling on Europe to keep its doors open to asylum seekers.

Guterres said the EU needed a coherent and unified asylum policy, replacing the current fragmented system in which some overwhelmed frontier countries such as Greece turn away the majority of asylum seekers.

© 2010 AFP

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