The anti-foreigner/asylum seeker publicity surrounding this weekend's Swiss elections
Briefing Notes, 17 October 2003
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 17 October 2003, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Response to a question from Agence France Press on the anti-foreigner/asylum seeker tone of the publicity surrounding this weekend's Swiss elections
UNHCR spokesman's reply: Yes, we're aware of this. We've said it before and we'll say it again: the politicization of the asylum issue, and rampant manipulation of facts, statistics and so on to cast asylum seekers and refugees in as ugly a light as possible in support of a fixed political agenda is a disturbing phenomenon wherever it happens. And it's been happening all too often.
UNHCR is indeed very concerned about the tone of some of the publicity surrounding this weekend's elections in Switzerland. From what we've seen, it includes some of the most nakedly anti-asylum advertisements by a major political party that we've seen in Europe to date.
In general, the sophistication of the extreme end of the anti-asylum lobby – whether it is politicians or the tabloid media, as we see in the United Kingdom, for example – is quite striking. The techniques used to create the illusion that asylum seekers are the root of all evil are often very clever. The tricks used include placing the word "asylum seeker" systematically and repeatedly in close conjunction with words such as "terrorist", "criminal", "rape", "disease", "fraud", "bogus" and so on. As a result, refugees and asylum seekers are dehumanized – presented en masse, in statistics – and then damned. The distinction between asylum seekers – a significant proportion of whom at the end of the day are recognized as refugees – and other foreigners, or citizens of foreign descent, are deliberately blurred, so that at the end of the day the term "asylum seeker" becomes synonymous with anyone you choose to dislike who looks foreign.
Any positive developments – for example, the current steep drop in numbers of new asylum seekers across almost all of the industrialized world, including Switzerland, or success stories of refugees who make major contributions to society – are simply ignored.
Criminals, whether they are asylum seekers or not, should be arrested, tried and jailed according to the law. Asylum systems can certainly be improved, and misuse of the system can and must be reduced. We have no problem with measures to this end as long as safeguards are there to ensure that refugees receive the protection they deserve and are entitled to under international law.