A new report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees warns that, despite the substantial drop in the number of asylum seekers coming to industrialised countries, debate about asylum seekers has become increasingly negative and vitriolic.
‘Refugees: Victims of Intolerance’ examines how myths and misperceptions created by politicians and journalists, particularly by those with a wider anti-foreigner agenda, build prejudice and can lead to violence.
In his introduction to the report, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said:
“In an increasing number of countries, asylum seekers – and the refugees among them – have become a tool for political demagogues, or have been turned into faceless bogeymen by an unscrupulous popular press.”
Although significant progress has been made in the UK since the 2005 general elections to reduce negative coverage, the report says that some news outlets continue to report in a hostile way, promoting two main perceptions that corrode public and governmental support for refugees – that refugees abuse the hospitality of their hosts and that there are too many asylum seekers in Europe, with more on the way.
In fact, the report points out that the number of people seeking asylum across Europe has fallen to its lowest in 25 years.
UNHCR is calling for British civil society to speak out against this kind of discriminatory rhetoric. Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said:
“Intolerance is an enemy of common sense. We need change to ensure a fair asylum system in this country. Too often politicians are tempted to respond to the fears stoked up by unbalanced media coverage rather than focusing on improving the quality of decision-making on asylum.
“We welcome this report, and hope that the misplaced hysteria around asylum seekers will die down, to be replaced by common sense, rational debate and practical solutions.”