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"Refugees not terrorists" and need protection - UN refugee chief

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Nairobi_(dpa) _ Countries must find a balance between securing their borders to keep out unwanted people like terrorists, while also guaranteeing protection for refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Wednesday.

Ending a three-day visit to South Sudan and Kenya to mark World Refugee Day, Antonio Guterres said the international community was not doing enough to ensure refugees were given the protection they deserve.

"Refugees are not terrorists. They are the first victims of terrorism," said Guterres, explaining that many countries sealed their borders to refugees fearing an influx of extremists or potential terrorists.

Kenya's border with war-torn Somalia has been sealed since the New Year when the Somali government ousted a radical Islamist group and sparked fears its members would pour into Kenyan refugee camps, which house more than 150,000 Somali refugees.

Thousands of people fleeing fighting were turned away, many remaining on the remote frontier, inaccessible to aid agencies.

Guterres said his visit to South Sudan was positive and he applauded the mass return of South Sudanese refugees from various countries, who he said were "ready to construct the south."

A peace agreement was signed in 2005 between the government in Khartoum and southern rebels who had fought a 20-year war that left the south bereft of infrastructure.

"This bright spot does not correspond to the world refugee situation at the present moment," said Guterres who lamented an increase in the number of refugees worldwide - the first such rise in five years.

The UN's refugee agency UNHCR has attributed the increase to more volatile conflicts worldwide, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan. dpa tg gma

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