Tighter asylum restrictions, growing levels of intolerance, and a “growing degree of asylum fatigue” are still major challenges according to the latest edition of UNHCR’S ‘The State of the World’s Refugees’ .
At the launch of the report in London, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres cited the nexus between asylum and migration as another major issue, saying that “asylum issues and refugee protection have become inextricably linked with the question of international migration, particularly irregular migration.” He called for states to reconcile legitimate national interests such as migration controls with international legal and humanitarian obligations towards uprooted people.
The report also identified the problem of “asylum fatigue”, in both developed and developing countries, “exacerbated by a growing concern that foreign nationals and members of ethnic minorities represent a potential threat to national security and public safety”. Mr Guterres noted the danger of using the issue of terrorism to legitimize the introduction of restrictive asylum practices and refugee policies, and said that “refugees are not terrorists. They are the first victims of terror.”
Maeve Sherlock, chief executive of the Refugee Council said “Media scare stories mean people mix up refugees with migrant workers, link asylum seekers with terrorism and worry that the country is an ‘easy touch’. If we are to take our responsibilities seriously, politicians of all parties must take the lead in telling the truth about asylum. We are not ‘under siege’, we are not being ‘swamped’ and we can, and should, be doing more to look after people who need our help.”
The report also showed that the number of refugees and asylum seekers is at its lowest in 25 years. Following the end of armed conflicts, millions of people have returned to countries such as Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, Mr Guterres explained, contributing to a sharp decline in the number of those classed as refugees.
However, the international system for dealing with human displacement has reached a critical juncture.
As conflict between states falls, the growth in civil war and internal conflict has created vast numbers of internally displaced persons, who have been forced to leave their homes but who do not fall under the 1951 Refugee Convention because they have not crossed an international border. Mr Guterres described the plight of these 25 million people as the international community’s “biggest failure in terms of humanitarian action” and welcomed the UN decision last year to assign sectoral responsibilities to specific agencies.
UNHCR press release
Electronic version of ‘The State of the World’s Refugees: Human Displacement in the New Millennium’
Guardian: Civil wars create new crisis despite number of refugees falling to lowest level for 25 years
Independent: Millions of refugees are hidden victims of the West’s war on terror, warns UN
BBC: UN alarmed over ‘asylum fatigue’