LAST year may be forever remembered as the year millions of people throughout Eastern Europe gained freedom. But for millions of others, it was the year they became, or remained, refugees from fighting and famine around the globe. World refugees totaled about 15.1 million last year, up from 14.4 million in 1988, according to an annual survey produced by the US Committee for Refugees. Much of the increase occurred in Africa, where bitter wars escalated even as the Berlin Wall fell.
In the last five years an average of 2,700 people a day have been forced from their homelands into refugee status. ``The overwhelming majority have not yet been able to return home,'' says Roger Winter, director of the US Committee.
The image of mass migration most in Western minds is that of East Germans flooding into West Germany seeking a new life. But most East European arrivals are immigrants welcomed with relatively open arms, not refugees.
Refugees are unexpected and sometimes unwelcome guests, who want only to return home when home becomes safe. In 1989, the worst spots for refugee creation were:
Mozambique. Some 420,000 Mozambicans fled the country last year as the 10-year-old conflict between the government and Renamo guerrillas continued. About 1.3 million Mozambicans now live in neighboring countries, according to the US Committee study.
Sudan. Eighty thousand more Sudanese left their homes in 1989, swelling the total number of the country's refugees to 425,000. Civil war is again the cause: The largely Muslim Khartoum government continues to fight the Sudanese People's Liberation Army of the largely Christian and animist south.
Vietnam. Seventy-one thousand Vietnamese escaped their country in 1989, the most in a decade, according to the report. This surge occurred even as Malaysia pushed several thousand Vietnamese boat people back out to sea and Hong Kong officials forced a group of Vietnamese refugees on a chartered jet and flew them back to Hanoi.
Angola. The Angolan government and UNITA guerrillas of Jonas Savimbi began a peace process early in the year, but continued fighting caused another 43,000 Angolans to run from the country. Some 438,000 Angolans now live in neighboring states.
The Mideast/South Asia region remains the area with the most refugees in the world, with the Afghanistan civil war the main cause. There are now almost 6 million Afghan refugees, with 3.6 million in Pakistani border camps and the bulk of the rest in Iran.
The Horn of Africa, which includes Ethiopia and Somalia, ``remains perhaps the most complex region in the world for refugees and displaced people,'' the study notes. Although Sudan has become a major refugee-producing country, it also is host to almost 700,000 Ethiopians, who began fleeing their own country's civil conflicts in 1967. Burgeoning famine could cause more northern Ethiopians to flow towards Sudan this year, though malnutrition among refugees in Sudan has risen to 10 to 20 percent, according to a UN estimate.