Line between migrants and refugees is blurring, UN official says

8 October 2007

The line between those who leave their homes out of fear and those who chose to seek a better life across borders is blurring, raising new issues for refugee protection, the senior United Nations official dealing with the problem has said.

The line between those who leave their homes out of fear and those who chose to seek a better life across borders is blurring, raising new issues for refugee protection, the senior United Nations official dealing with the problem has said.

“When we deal with refugees, we deal with people who are fleeing persecution or war,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres said at a press conference following the conclusion of the agency's Executive Committee session on Friday.

“But we have also more and more people who have to flee for other reasons. We are witnessing situations of extreme deprivation, climate change environmental degradation – together with war, conflict and persecution. It is more and more difficult to distinguish between these different categories of forced displacement.”

He noted that wars are often fueled by scarcity of resources, which in turn can be driven by climate change. “All of these things are more and more mixed together and there is a big challenge for the international community to find ways to deal with the forms of forced displacement that are taking shape in the 21st Century, and finding new and innovative solutions to cope with it.”

In order to respond, the international community must create the conditions for protection to be more easily delivered, along with “more meaningful possibilities for legal migration and more meaningful development cooperation policies addressing the pressing needs of some areas of the world that have become particularly vulnerable,” he said.

While UNHCR is not a migration agency, distinguishing between those who are forced to flee and those who do so by choice is becoming increasingly difficult and is posing an enormous challenge for the international community. Dealing with the complexities of this “asylum-migration” nexus was a key question in the 72-nation Executive Committee's discussions, the High Commissioner said.

“In these mixed flows, how can we guarantee that we detect the people in need of protection, and that those people in need of protection are granted physical access to asylum procedures and fair treatment of their asylum claims?”

While governments have a right to manage their borders, the agency said that should not create obstacles for refugees deserving of protection under international law. It warned that around the Mediterranean, in the Gulf of Aden and in other parts of the world, a lack of legal routes meant increasing numbers of people were falling prey to smugglers and human traffickers, with dramatic and often deadly results.

 

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