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World's Forgotten Exiles

THE cold war is truly history. A chronicler of the 1990s can dare to say: The world as a whole is at peace.

But tell that to the Rwandans, the 2 million of them still in camps outside their country. Or speak of peace to the Karen ethnic minority in Burma, the 16,000 or so who have been driven from their homeland into Thailand by Burmese troops.

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What peace can there be for the 7,500 Cubans just transferred from detention camps in Panama to detention camps in Guantanamo Bay, where 20,000 other Cubans are held?

The 4,000 Haitians already ``forcibly repatriated'' from Panama, the Muslims in what is left of Yugoslavia, the Kurds in Iraq, and dozens of other cases on every continent all satisfy the definition of refugees: people who don't feel safe in their homeland and aren't welcome anywhere else. For them, it might as well be World War II as far as any peace or stability goes.

Who can even guess how many of them there are - the men, women, and children in exile all over the globe? But can these people who are so hard to count be so easy to forget?

``Remember Rwanda?'' a recent newspaper article asked, updating the reports of chaos still prevailing in that blighted land. Up to a million people have been killed, as well as those 2 million dispersed in the ferocious war between Hutus and Tutsis. And yet the reporter may well ask his terrible question. Despite the enormity of this ongoing disaster, Rwanda is last year's headline.

But what resolution is promised to the refugees, moved from camp to camp or fleeing on their own from one not-so-safe haven to another?

Amid all the media diversions, the plight of the world's displaced people deserves and demands attention - they cannot in all conscience be forgotten. Each case of involuntary exile may be different and require a different solution. But it is no solution at all to put refugees on a shuttle to nowhere.

The great powers and the United Nations must do more than build tent cities and give handouts - in effect hoping that the refugee problem will just go away. Politicians who can generously bail out banks at home and underwrite loans to countries abroad cannot skirt the question when it is applied to the world's homeless: Am I my brother's keeper?

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