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Refugee numbers falling in Russia against global surge - UN

MOSCOW, June 19 (RIA Novosti) - The number of refugees in Russia has been falling steadily in recent years, while global refugee figures have surged, the United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday.

Dennis Blair, deputy head of the Moscow Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told a RIA Novosti news conference that displaced people in Russia totaled 382,000 as of the end of May 2007.

Specifically, the number of people displaced from the troubled Republic of Chechnya has plummeted to 15,000, down from 250,000 just two years ago, he said.

The official attributed the trend to a construction boom in the republic, making new housing available for those who lost their homes in Russia's two wars there.

Most refugees now in Russia came from Georgia, in particular the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, Blair said, adding that many of them have already been granted Russian citizenship.

The fall in refugee numbers in the country comes amid a general increase in global refugee figures, which hit a five-year high of 10 million in 2006, 14% up on the previous year. The figures were released Tuesday in Geneva, where the UNHCR is based.

Russian authorities lack a regulatory framework that would make a clear distinction between genuine refugees and economic migrants calling themselves displaced. The top UNHCR official in Russia, Wolfgang Milzow, said his agency was willing to help the country forge such legislation so that it could reduce the inflow of illegal migrants while ensuring that people whose lives are in danger in their home regions or countries are accepted.

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