UNHCR Press release: 'UK must share, not shift asylum burden' - Refugee Council
April 1, 2005

UNHCR Press release: ‘UK must share, not shift asylum burden’

Released by UNHCR External Affairs on 08 April 2005

As campaigning for UK elections gets underway the UN refugee agency country representative Anne Dawson-Shepherd has urged political parties to stick to facts and not propagate asylum myths during the pre-election period.

“UNHCR is terribly worried as among some quarters the crisis rhetoric and lumping of asylum with migration issues continues, often fuelled by thinly disguised xenophobia and political opportunism,” UNHCR Representative Anne Dawson-Shepherd said. “The number of people claiming asylum in the UK has dropped 61 percent over the last two years, back to levels not seen since the early 1990s.”

“It is vitally important for the UK and its EU partners to manage rather than simply react to the asylum challenge, governments need to share, not shift burdens, and to harmonise not only their laws but also their practice,” Dawson-Shepherd declared.

Dawson-Shepherd was speaking following statements made earlier this week by one UK party leader who declared that UNHCR and the European Commission had already established pilot schemes for overseas processing centres in a number of north African countries.

“It is not correct that overseas processing centres have been established,” she said. “Certainly this would not happen in countries with poor human rights records and which are also non-signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention,” Dawson-Shepherd said.

The 1951 Refugee Convention protects people from being returned to their homelands to face persecution. Recent proposals for the UK to withdraw from the treaty have been touted as a panacea to perceived problems with immigration. UNHCR’s position is that the Refugee Convention was never intended to address migration control.

“Withdrawing from the Refugee Convention and further weakening the international asylum regime by placing the burden of caring for refugees on states lacking adequate resources and traditions of respect for human rights would only trigger further and more uncontrolled asylum flows, fatally undermining international efforts for burden-sharing and refugee protection,” Dawson-Shepherd said.

The UNHCR representative wrote to candidates for the UK parliament this week asking them to “show political leadership and social responsibility by working towards reversing the atmosphere of intolerance that has been fostered towards refugees and asylum seekers.”

“Refuting false and negative stereotypes and promoting a climate of understanding in regards to the reasons why people must still flee murderous regimes will help ensure that asylum seekers and refugees get the support they need while fostering better community cohesion,” Dawson-Shepherd wrote in her letter to candidates.

“Refugees are extremely vulnerable, having experienced violence in their homelands, and arrive in the UK without family or other support networks. They are not a threat, but are threatened, and thus deserve Britain’s support and understanding.”

On the issue of irregular migration, the UNHCR has called for a system that provides opportunities for refugees and migrants to come to Europe legally, stating that policies built on exclusion are not only morally reprehensible, it is also impractical: it will simply push all forms of migration, including refugees, further underground.