UN refugees chief: Africa sinks deeper into crisis

The head of the U.N. refugee agency says deepening humanitarian crises across the Middle East and North Africa combined with persistent global economic woes have created a "nightmare scenario."

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said the formation of a broad crisis area across Africa encompassing Libya, Nigeria, Mauritania and Somalia poses a major threat to global peace and security.

"We feel there are more and more needs, and we see that there are limitations to mobilize the resources required to address those needs," Guterres told The Associated Press in an interview on the sidelines of a conference in the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan devoted to the issue of refugees in the Islamic world.

More than two-thirds of the 17.6 million displaced people worldwide are from and sheltered in Islamic countries, according to UNHCR figures.

Political unrest and civil conflict in countries such as Syria, Mali and newly independent South Sudan over the last year have further stretched thinly resourced humanitarian organizations.

"There is no humanitarian solution for these problems. The solution is political, and it is essential that the international community comes together to be able to quickly promote effective political solutions in each of these situations," Guterres said.

Last week saw a major breakthrough in efforts to ease one the world's most enduring humanitarian crises when international donors pledged $1.9 billion to help rebuild the lives of almost 9 million former and current Afghan refugees.

The plan thrashed out at a conference in Geneva is to initially focus on providing schools and jobs and meeting other basic needs for the 5.7 million Afghans who have returned to their homeland.

Some 2 million Afghans remain in Pakistan, and 1 million in Iran, and the plan also is intended to help resettle those who wish to return home.

But while Syria and Afghanistan have gained significant global attention, Guterres said the fallout of civil conflicts like that in the Western African nation of Mali risks being overlooked.

The government in Mali was toppled in a coup in March, compounding instability as tens of thousands of people were fleeing to neighboring countries because of attacks by a Tuareg rebel group. The Tuareg uprising that began in mid-January is being fueled by arms leftover from the civil war in neighboring Libya.

Guterres warned developed nations against complacency and the dangers of allowing isolated crises to take on a pan-regional dimension.

"It is not only a matter of solidarity. It is a matter of enlightened self-interest that should mobilize the international community to address this crisis," he said.