UN refugee agency outlines strategy to fight xenophobia and racism

Refugees and asylum-seekers in South Africa receive meals after they were driven from their homes by xenophobic attacks

23 December 2009 – The United Nations refugee agency laid out its strategy today to combat xenophobia and racism, which it says triggers flight and can jeopardize its work to protect asylum-seekers, refugees and the stateless.

“Xenophobia and racism are often at the root of discrimination and intolerance against asylum-seekers and refugees,” said Volker Türk, the director of the international protection division of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Fear of the ‘other’ typically underlies racist and intolerant sentiments and is compounded by the current global economic and the deteriorating political and social environment in some countries, according to the new guidelines.

The agency’s strategy also calls for the monitoring of signs of intolerance, such as racial discrimination and hate crimes. It stresses that the discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance can only be countered by understanding their underlying reasons, including rising immigration and high unemployment.

But UNHCR underlined that changing intolerant attitudes is too large a task for one organization to achieve, and called for the participation of governments, UN bodies, non-governmental organization, law enforcement and the media to counter xenophobia and racism.

Communities affected by intolerance, as well as potentially hostile groups, must also be involved in all stages of the process to conquer the fear of the ‘other.’

“Racism, xenophobia and intolerance are serious threats to the protection of refugees, asylum-seekers and the stateless,” Mr. Türk emphasized. “UNHCR and its partners are working hard to tackle this challenge, but more needs to be done.”


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