A new United Nations report on the world’s refugees claims that although the number of global refugees has halved since 1992, the international system for dealing with them has reached a ‘critical juncture’.
Tighter asylum restrictions, growing intolerance, terrorism fears and the blurring of the distinction between ‘refugees’, ‘asylum seekers’ and ‘migrants’ have led to concerns that many governments are evading their responsibilities.
Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, says:
“The UN is right in that richer countries like the UK are simply not pulling their weight when it comes to looking after people who are forced to flee their homelands. The vast majority of refugees find help in developing countries, not the West, so we should be doing a lot more.
“Successive governments in the UK have focussed entirely on battening down our borders, blocking asylum seekers before they can reach our shores and making the whole system as tough, complex and uncompassionate as it possibly can be.
“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.”
“We welcome the government’s commitment to the Gateway Protection Programme, which helps groups of people who’ve been in refugee camps for years to resettle in this country. The programme is gathering pace, but the numbers involved are still very small(1). And while resettlement programmes are excellent, they cannot help those who must flee from their home countries on the spur of the moment. These people should not be prevented from finding safety by distant border controls and crude interception methods.
“We are pleased that our government – and indeed the other major political parties – remain committed to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. But as well as following it to the letter, we’d like to see them respect the spirit of it as well.”
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Notes to Editors
1. The Gateway Protection Programme started in 2004, designed to resettle some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees. The government aims to resettle around 500 refugees a year. For more information please see our pages on resettlement
2. The State of the World’s Refugees: Human Displacement in the New Millennium is produced by the UNHCR, and was launched on Wednesday 19th April 2006.
3. The global population of refugees of concern to UNHCR declined from nearly 18 million in 1992 to just over 9 million in 2004. 70% of these are found in developing countries.