Refugees should not be turned into scapegoats following Paris attacks, says UN agency

A volunteer on the Greek Island of Lesbos gathers a baby girl in her arms, moments after her family arrived in an inflatable boat. Photo: UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis

17 November 2015 – The United Nations refugee agency today expressed its shock and horror at the attacks in Paris and the killing of so many innocent people but warned against the scapegoating of refugees, in the wake of the deadly attacks.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), António Guterres conveyed his solidarity with the Government and the people of France, as he did with the Government of Lebanon, following the recent Beirut attacks.

“We are deeply disturbed by language that demonizes refugees as a group. This is dangerous as it will contribute to xenophobia and fear. The security problems Europe faces are highly complex. Refugees should not be turned into scapegoats and must not become the secondary victims of these most tragic events,” said Melissa Fleming, UNHCR spokesperson at today’s Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva.

Ms. Fleming cautioned against the reactions of some Member States to end the programs being put in place, backtracking from commitments made to manage the refugee crisis, such as relocation, or proposing the erection of more barriers.

At the same time, she also expressed concern by the yet unconfirmed news that one of the Paris attackers may have entered Europe as part of the current influx of refugees and migrants.

“We strongly believe in the importance of preserving the integrity of the asylum system. Asylum and terrorism are not compatible with each other,” said Ms. Fleming adding that the 1951 Refugee Convention excludes from its scope people who have committed serious crimes.

Ms. Fleming emphasized that the overwhelming majority of those coming to Europe are fleeing persecution or the life-threatening effects of conflict and are unable to reach safety in Europe by alternative avenues.

She also stressed that many people are fleeing from extremism and terrorism “from the very people associated with the Paris attacks.” The spokesperson also added that precarious conditions in countries of first asylum have also forced many to leave for Europe.

Additionally, Ms. Fleming recalled that Member States were urged to immediately put in place an effective reception, registration and screening mechanism immediately upon arrival of refugees and migrants, adding that eligible asylum-seekers must be provided protection and relocation services under the European Union (EU) plan.

“Relocation and other agreed measures can improve the management and stabilization of current flows of people. These measures include security measures and the proper registration of all those on the move,” Ms. Fleming added.

Further she said highlighted the urgent need to significantly “expand legal avenues, notably resettlement and humanitarian admission programs, as alternatives to the dangerous and irregular journeys while cracking down on smugglers.”

Lastly, Ms. Fleming reiterated that the security of societies and ensuring the integrity of asylum in Europe are objectives that are not incompatible and stressed that they are central to maintaining European core values and protecting the right to seek asylum.


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