Afghan refugee girls pose for a picture while playing on a railway track, on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, April 4, 2011. – AP Photo

GENEVA: The United Nations sought Monday to debunk what it called ‘worrying misperceptions’ about movements of displaced people saying that developing countries hosted 80 per cent of the world’s refugees.

The total number of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons, had not ceased to grow with the figure reaching nearly 44 million people in 2010, the UNHCR said in a report.

“In today’s world, there are worrying misperceptions about refugee movements and the international protection paradigm,” said Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Fears about supposed floods of refugees in industralised countries are being vastly overblown or mistakenly conflated with issues of migration.

“Meanwhile it is poorer countries that are left having to pick up the burden.” The UNHCR’s annual report on refugee trends found that most of the world’s displaced were seeking sanctuary in developing countries, including those which are among the world’s poorest.

Pakistan is host to the largest refugee population of 1.9 million, Iran is host to 1.1 million and Syria to one million.

The cost to these economies is also proportionally large. Pakistan has the biggest impact with 710 refugees for each dollar of its per capita GDP, followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo with 475 and Kenya with 247.

In comparison, Germany has 17 refugees for every dollar of per capita GDP, the UNHCR pointed out.

Overall, 43.7 million people are displaced worldwide, including 15.6 million refugees. About 27.5 million are displaced internally - a 10-year record high - and there is another 850,000 asylum seekers.

The total figure, up from 43.3 million in 2009, is the highest in 15 years, the agency said on the occasion of world refugee day.

Afghans make up the largest number of refugees at three million, followed by Iraqis (1.6 million), Somalis (770,200), along with people from the Democratic Republic of Congo (476,000) and Myanmar (415,700).

The country of first choice for asylum seekers is South Africa with 180,600 requests registered in 2010, or one fifth of world requests, three times more than the United States (54,300) or France (48,100).

The data do not take into account displacements in 2011, such as those in Libya, Ivory Coast and Syria.

Commenting on European worries about a mass influx of refugees from north Africa following the Arab Spring movement, Guterres’ deputy Alexander Aleinikoff told a news conference that the figures seen in Europe early this year “are not figures that cannot be managed equitably”.

He added: “The great majority of refugees in north Africa have stayed in the region.” Aleinikoff told journalists: “We need the attention of states, the international community and civil society to help people obtain what many regard as a right - a place called home.”