Raising public awareness can end intolerance towards refugees – UN official

21 July 2005

The new United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today called on governments, civil society and the media to step up their efforts to encourage open-mindedness and combat radicalism on all fronts, as it was becoming increasingly difficult to preserve asylum and to protect refugees in an environment of growing intolerance and extremism.

The new United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today called on governments, civil society and the media to step up their efforts to encourage open-mindedness and combat radicalism on all fronts, as it was becoming increasingly difficult to preserve asylum and to protect refugees in an environment of growing intolerance and extremism.

Giving his first press conference at the UN Headquarters in Geneva since taking office just over one month ago, António Guterres warned against promoting mixed messages that could lead the public to confuse migration, asylum and refugee issues with legitimate concerns about fighting terrorism.

"Nothing can justify terrorism. We must fight it without any doubt," he said in his opening statement. "But we will only be able to defeat [it] if we stick to our values, namely to democracy and the promotion of human rights." So in short, the institution of asylum was an essential part of the core values that everyone must protect and promote.

And while it was necessary to recognize the rights of governments to responsibly manage migration flows at their borders, "refugees are not terrorists," he stressed, adding: "Many times, they are the victims of terror."

He stressed UNHCR's commitment to tolerance and democracy and said he was personally committed to engaging the agency with internally displaced persons (IDPs), even though such people were not technically refugees, since they hadn't crossed any international borders. But their problems were very similar and they were entitled to similar protections.

 

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