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UNHCR issues guidelines to counter discrimination, intolerance

News Stories, 22 December 2009

© UNHCR/J Redden
Refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa receive meals at an emergency shelter set up after they were driven from their homes by xenophobic attacks

GENEVA, 22 December The UN refugee agency has outlined a strategy for countering racism and xenophobia, which the organization says is a frequent cause of flight and which can threaten UNHCR's efforts 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, director of UNHCR's international protection division. "Many UNHCR offices have identified negative public attitudes towards persons of concern as a significant obstacle to the provision of international protection."

The guidelines state that fear of the 'other' typically underlies racist and intolerant sentiments. This fear has been compounded by the current global economic crisis and the deteriorating political and social environment in some countries. These factors pose additional challenges to the protection of people of concern to UNHCR.

The guidelines call for the monitoring of signs of intolerance such as racial discrimination and for tracking hate crimes. Underlying reasons for racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance such as rising immigration or high unemployment -- must also be understood in order to develop effective counter-measures.

UNHCR must also assess whether intolerant attitudes are impacting its protection work, for example, by triggering restrictive policies that create new obstacles to asylum-seekers or a rise in hate crimes.

Changing intolerant attitudes is a task too great for one organization to achieve on its own. To successfully combat racism and xenophobia, the guidelines call for the engagement of a broad range of groups such as governments, law officers, UN bodies, non-governmental organizations and the media.

Affected communities must also be included in all stages of the process. Encouraging the involvement of potentially hostile communities can play a key role in conquering the 'fear of the other' underlying xenophobia. Support to individuals who are the victims of racism and intolerance must also be a priority.

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

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International Women's Day 2013

Gender equality remains a distant goal for many women and girls around the world, particularly those who are forcibly displaced or stateless. Multiple forms of discrimination hamper their enjoyment of basic rights: sexual and gender-based violence persists in brutal forms, girls and women struggle to access education and livelihoods opportunities, and women's voices are often powerless to influence decisions that affect their lives. Displaced women often end up alone, or as single parents, battling to make ends meet. Girls who become separated or lose their families during conflict are especially vulnerable to abuse.

On International Women's Day, UNHCR reaffirms its commitment to fight for women's empowerment and gender equality. In all regions of the world we are working to support refugee women's participation and leadership in camp committees and community structures, so they can assume greater control over their lives. We have also intensified our efforts to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence, with a focus on emergencies, including by improving access to justice for survivors. Significantly, we are increasingly working with men and boys, in addition to women and girls, to bring an end to dangerous cycles of violence and promote gender equality.

These photographs pay tribute to forcibly displaced women and girls around the world. They include images of women and girls from some of today's major displacement crises, including Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Sudan.

International Women's Day 2013

International Women's Day 2014

Every year on March 8, the UN refugee agency joins people around the world to celebrate International Women's Day. This year's theme, "Equality for Women is Progress for All," recognizes that we do not live in a world in which all women and girls are treated equally and without discrimination. UNHCR puts great importance on achieving progress in gender equality and advancing the empowerment of women.

But while many forcibly displaced women and girls around the world are making strides every day towards improving their lives and achieving equality, there are countless women who are victims of sexual violence and have no access to justice or support, girls who are unable to complete their education and fulfill their promise and mothers who cannot provide enough food for their children.

With this photo set, UNHCR celebrates the lives of forcibly displaced women and girls around the world, remembers their needs, and supports their right to a normal, safe and dignified life and to one day return home.

International Women's Day 2014

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

In 1991, some 250,000 refugees from Myanmar's Northern Rakhine state fled by boat and on foot to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they were sheltered in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazar district. While the majority of these refugees eventually returned home, some 20,500 people – mostly Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnic group – remain in two of the original camps.

Conditions in these camps are below standard, with many refugees living in overcrowded shelters in desperate need of repair. Frequent heavy rains inundate the area, further damaging shelters and spreading disease. Harassment and discrimination add to the plight of the Rohingya refugees, the majority of whom say that they do not want to return home until there is peace and democracy in Myanmar.

The UNHCR has expanded its routine protection monitoring in Cox's Bazar to address the problems of sexual and gender-based violence as well as trafficking of women and children. The UN refugee agency continues to work with governments, other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to try and find a durable solution for the Rohingya refugees.

Posted on 27 November 2006

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Khaled Hosseini - No one chooses to be a refugeePlay video

Khaled Hosseini - No one chooses to be a refugee

UNHCR's 2012 World Refugee Day global social advocacy campaign, "Dilemmas", aims to help fight intolerance and xenophobia against refugees. UNHCR Goodwill Envoy Khaled Hosseini and a host of other celebrities echo the same strong message: No one chooses to be a refugee.
Juanes - No one chooses to be a refugeePlay video

Juanes - No one chooses to be a refugee

UNHCR's 2012 World Refugee Day global social advocacy campaign, "Dilemmas", aims to help fight intolerance and xenophobia against refugees. UNHCR supporter Juanes and a host of other celebrities echo the same strong message: No one chooses to be a refugee.
Yao Chen - No one chooses to be a refugeePlay video

Yao Chen - No one chooses to be a refugee

UNHCR's 2012 World Refugee Day global social advocacy campaign, "Dilemmas", aims to help fight intolerance and xenophobia against refugees. Yao Chen UNHCR Honorary Patron for China and a host of other celebrities echo the same strong message: No one chooses to be a refugee.