The U.N. refugee agency warns populist politics and fear-mongering about immigration are eroding international protection for refugees fleeing conflict and persecution. The UNHCR protection chief spoke about growing protection concerns at the agency’s annual refugee conference.
Conflict, persecution and violence have displaced a record 68.5 million people around the world. Most are internally displaced, while 25 million are refugees. These are people who have crossed international borders and are entitled to international protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
But U.N. Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Turk says this right is slipping away. He says some governments are taking political and legal measures to narrow the concept of who is a refugee. He says being able to flee and be recognized as a refugee can be a matter of life and death.
Unfortunately, he notes the issue of security is too often used to adopt restrictive approaches to deny refugees protection.
“Of course, there is no doubt governments need and must ensure the security of their citizens, but this is entirely complementary with providing refuge to people who flee persecution,” said Turk.
Turk says refugees are the victims, not the perpetrators, of violence and terror. He says they often have rejected extremism and been targeted, forcing them to flee for their lives. He says it is unjust to deny security to people who need it most.
“I think both in the global North and the global South, I have to say, it is our observation, that the dehumanization of refugees, of migrants, of IDP’s, of stateless individuals has become a worrying trend,” said Turk. “It results from inappropriate language, misinformation, deterrence, detention, separation of families and children, and ‘warehousing.”
Turk says xenophobia, racism, and bigotry often are driven by fear, anger and anxiety within communities. He says they must be confronted and addressed. He warns history shows how the mistreatment of the foreigner paves the way for the mistreatment of the citizen.