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UN agency concerned about fallout against refugees in aftermath of terror attacks

UN agency concerned about fallout against refugees in aftermath of terror attacks

UNHCR photo
The United Nations refugee agency today expressed concern about the possible adverse fallout for refugees and asylum seekers in the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks against the United States.

In a statement released at its headquarters in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was worried that bona-fide asylum seekers may be victimized as a result of public prejudice and unduly restrictive legislation or administrative measures. It was also concerned that carefully-built refugee protection standards might be eroded.

The agency said there was already increasing public perception in some countries of refugees as "criminals" and attempts to create unwarranted links between them and terrorism, coming at a time when asylum seekers were already facing difficulties in gaining access to asylum procedures and overcoming suspicions about their ethnicity and the validity of their claims.

Refugees, UNHCR noted, were escaping violence themselves, including terrorism, and were not the perpetrators of such acts.

The agency endorsed the efforts of some governments that have been exploring additional security safeguards to prevent terrorists from entering countries, including through asylum channels. It said it would study "what might be termed the better practices" of capitals undertaking such reviews.

Any additional safeguards introduced, however, should "strike a proper balance with refugee protection principles that may be at stake," UNHCR cautioned.

"It is also crucial that states understand that the 1951 Refugee Convention does not provide a safe haven to terrorists, nor does it protect them from criminal prosecution," UNHCR said. "On the contrary, the Convention is carefully framed to exclude persons who commit particularly serious crimes."

The UN agency said the Security Council resolution adopted last month - which calls on countries to urgently work together to prevent terrorist acts and take additional domestic measures - if properly interpreted and applied, was in line with principles of international refugee law.

UNHCR warned, however, that care must be taken in implementing the resolution to ensure that bona fide asylum seekers and refugees were not denied their basic rights under cover of the need to take anti-terrorism measures.