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Asylum Debate Ignores Problems Faced By Refugees

Asylum Debate Ignores Real Problems Faced By Refugees, Says UN Official

The United Nations refugee agency's top protection official said today she is alarmed that in many countries the debate on asylum is distorted by false concerns and ignores the genuine suffering still faced by refugees.

Erika Feller, Director of the International Protection Department at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told the annual meeting of the agency's governing board, taking place this week in Geneva, that politicizing the asylum debate does not solve the migration concerns of States.

Ms. Feller called for greater cooperation between countries so they can share their refugee responsibilities and better manage the movement of people.

Her warning comes as the number of people seeking asylum has fallen sharply since 2001, driven partly by the conclusions of several long-running conflicts, such as in Afghanistan and Angola. At the start of this year there were only 17.1 million people who came under the concern of UNHCR, down by almost 22 per cent from 21.8 million in January 2001.

Despite this drop in numbers, refugees and asylum-seekers are facing an increasingly hostile environment in many countries today, Ms. Feller said.

"It is currently in vogue to talk of a new refugee and asylum reality…[but] the problems of the refugee are perennial. Confronting intolerance and fear, being a foreigner in someone else's land, searching for a safe haven and waiting for solutions: these are recurring features of the refugee experience."

Ms. Feller said she was particularly worried that understandable migration concerns about preventing terrorism and fighting trans-national crime were being blurred with the issues of asylum-seekers and refugees.

"Equating asylum with a safe haven for terrorists is not only legally wrong and unsupported by the facts, but it serves to vilify refugees in the public mind and promotes the singling out of persons of particular races or religions for discrimination and hate-based harassment."

She stressed how important it is for nations to uphold their responsibilities under the 1951 Refugee Convention and not to seek to narrow their commitments.

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