UNHCR expresses deep concern over attacks on asylum-seekers in United Kingdom

10 August 2001

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today reacted with deep concern to the outbreak of vicious attacks on asylum-seekers in the United Kingdom over the past week, urging politicians and the media to deal responsibly with the issue.

A 22-year-old Turkish Kurd asylum-seeker was murdered in Glasgow last Sunday while an Iranian asylum-seeker on the same housing estate was stabbed on Tuesday night, according to UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski. Another asylum-seeker was stabbed in the throat on Tuesday in Hull, England.

"Three such attacks in the space of three days is a very alarming development, but in UNHCR's view was sadly predictable given the climate of vilification of asylum-seekers that has taken hold in the UK in recent years," Mr. Janowski told reporters in Geneva. "In some mass circulation newspapers, asylum-seekers are continually branded a problem, statistics are being twisted and negative stories are being endlessly highlighted. This often deliberate attempt to tarnish the name of an entire group has been so successful that the words 'asylum-seeker' and 'refugee' have even become a term of abuse in school playgrounds."

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, recently wrote in an editorial that asylum-seekers made a perfect target for people who wanted to invoke the age-old prejudice against foreigners.

"Asylum-seekers can't answer back," he wrote. "'Illegal,' 'bogus,' 'flood,' 'fraudulent,' 'criminal,' 'scrounger,' 'trafficking' - all are words commonly paired with the term 'asylum-seeker.'" He warned that abusive language had dangerous consequences. He warned that abusive language had dangerous consequences. "Such words drip into the public consciousness until they become self-fulfilling - the 'public opinion' they help shape stimulates the formulation of increasingly restrictive and harsher policies."


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