Afghan refugees suffer from growing hostility, UN agency warns

10 July 2001

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed concern today about the increasing lack of hospitality - and in some cases downright hostility - towards Afghan refugees, not only in the immediate region, but all across the world.

"When arriving in industrialized countries, Afghans - like other asylum-seekers - are facing an ever-growing barricade of exclusionary measures designed to keep them out," UNHCR spokesman Rupert Coleville told reporters today in Geneva. "In some countries they find themselves slapped straight into detention, in others they simply fold into a wider group generally stigmatized as bogus and unwanted."

According to the UN agency, the number of Afghan asylum-seekers spreading out beyond the neighbouring asylum countries has climbed dramatically over the past four years as conditions inside Afghanistan continue to deteriorate. In 2000, Afghans were arriving in countries as diverse as Australia, Cambodia, Cuba and Iceland. In all, during 2000, Afghans applied for asylum in at least 68 countries around the world. Europe in particular has seen a very steep increase in numbers with the arrival rate almost doubling in the past two years.

"That they are moving further and wider is not surprising, since the climate of hospitality in neighbouring countries is virtually extinct," Mr. Coleville said, adding that the five countries neighbouring Afghanistan have all closed their borders, despite the fact that the conflict is still raging in some parts of the country, and serious human rights abuses occur on a daily basis.

Deportations continue to be reported in Pakistan and in Iran, where a strict new law forbidding employers to use foreign labour has resulted in a loss of employment for thousands of Afghans and seems to have unleashed a wave of violence against them. UNHCR has received reports of physical attacks on Afghans by local citizens, and also of some businesses closing down because of the loss of cheap labour.

Meanwhile donors are reluctant to fund repatriation, and other agencies are unwilling to take part in voluntary repatriation programmes, which in turn feeds into the negative mindset of the neighbouring countries who see little sign of burden-sharing, the spokesman said. "Overall, the picture concerning Afghans - the single biggest group of refugees in the world at four million or more - is about as grim as it can get."


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