As war in Iraq nears, UN official urges world not to forget plight of refugees

As war in Iraq nears, UN official urges world not to forget plight of refugees

Ruud Lubbers
With war in Iraq perhaps mere days away, the head of the United Nations refugee agency has urged the international community not to forget the fear, destruction, loss of innocent lives and desperation faced by those fleeing their homes.

In an address yesterday to the Geneva-based UN Commission on Human Rights, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers said that while "strong and decisive action" was needed to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, "every effort should also be made to prevent situations which might give rise to new flows of refugees and more human misery."

"For this, in itself, could breed insecurity and could sow the seeds of tomorrow's terrorism," Mr. Lubbers told the world leaders gathered for the Commission's first-ever high-level segment. In the last three years, he added, more than 100,000 Iraqis had applied for asylum in other countries - a sad testimony to the state of their country.

Mr. Lubbers said that despite all UN efforts, the world found itself on the brink of war in Iraq. But the international community could not, meanwhile, allow important programmes outside Iraq to be neglected. "Already too many people in the world had paid a price because of the exclusive focus of the international community on the Iraq situation," he said.

Calling for sustained humanitarian funding and action in other regions of the world where serious human rights problems and refugee flows were also occurring, Mr. Lubbers said its was crucial that any large-scale relief operation for Iraqis be funded through a refocusing of the existing Iraqi oil-for-food programmes.

Pointing out some the acute difficulties faced by all displaced persons, Mr. Lubbers stressed that a focus on policies of deterrence and migration control - particularly in the post-11 September environment - had tainted the institution of asylum in the public eye, making it increasingly difficult for those seeking a safe haven through legal means.

Many were now compelled to turn to smugglers or were left stranded in countries with inadequate asylum structures, he said, adding that a multilateral approach was required that addressed migration and forced displacement in a comprehensive and forward-looking manner, focusing on root causes, human rights protection and labour needs.