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Forced Displacement and the Promise of Pluralism, by António Guterres

Analysis/Editorials, 29 May 2014

High Commissioner's Op-Ed published in The Globe and Mail, 29 May 2014

Societies across the globe are becoming multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Whether we like it or not, we cannot stop this trend; it is inevitable.

We do have a choice, however, in how we approach this. Do we embrace diversity as a source of strength, or do we play the populist game and make it a source of fear? Like most Canadians, I believe tolerance is the only responsible option.

Canada provides a compelling example of the benefits of multi-cultural life, when nurtured by good governance, strong civic institutions and respectful policies. It is a model celebrated worldwide, and cherished by many at home.

Yet we have seen how easy it is to throw tolerance off course. In my part of the world, Europe, anti-immigration and xenophobic parties have taken advantage of the economic crisis to rapidly gain influence, and mainstream parties have been unable, or even unwilling, to stop them.

This is deeply worrying. With an average fertility rate of 1.5 children per woman, Europe needs immigration to maintain its economy, and pay the pensions of its aging population. Without immigration, many of our communities would become unsustainable.

Recently I visited Central African Republic, a country where only a year ago Christians and Muslims lived side by side. It is today one of the world's most dangerous places, with men, women and even children being driven from their homes and killed, just because of their religion. Thousands of people are dead and nearly 700,000 forcibly displaced. It took unscrupulous individuals, looking for short term gains to make this happen.

When faith or ethnicity are instrumentalized for political purposes, tensions can quickly gain a dangerous dynamic. They are like a genie, that once out of the bottle becomes increasingly impossible to control.

That is why we celebrate models like Canada, where tolerance and reason remain strong. We must stand together against any kind of manipulation that leads to hatred, be it political populism, radical nationalism or religious fundamentalism.

It isn't easy. Globalization has been unfair, and many people have been left out. Physical and legal barriers are not enough to stop people fleeing persecution and violence, or simply looking for a better life. Border controls alone do not work; in fact they simply play into the hands of traffickers and smugglers.

Globally, we need a system that welcomes diversity, and that shares the benefits of globalization more widely. That means cooperation between countries of origin, transit and destination, and concerted efforts to identify opportunities for legal migration.

It also means doing more to prevent conflict and build peace, so that when people move, they do so out of choice, not necessity. And it means building strong global systems for when things go wrong.

Irrespective of cultural, religious or ethnic differences, men and women around the world share a common value: that we should protect and shelter a stranger in need.

Today, more people are uprooted by violence, persecution and war than at any time since World War II. Nearly 3 million Syrians have fled their country in little more than three years. And more than 1 million of them are in neighbouring Lebanon, which today has the highest concentration of refugees in the world nearly 52 times as many as in Canada.

Canada is fortunate to be far from today's main sources of conflict and displacement. Most refugees find safety and help in neighbouring countries, which are showing generosity well beyond their means. In fact, some 86% of the world's refugees live in developing countries, compared to 70% a decade ago.

But globalization has led to global population movements, including of refugees. It remains therefore important that people in need of international protection can seek and find asylum anywhere in the world.

Canada has a proud history of welcoming refugees and its resettlement programme is one of the largest in the world. It offers refugees who can no longer stay in their first country of asylum an opportunity to rebuild their lives. I encourage Canada to resettle a large number of Syrian refugees, helping to ease the disproportionate burden shouldered by neighbouring countries, and setting an example to the rest of the world.

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UNHCR country pages

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

After violence erupted in Libya in February last year, tens of thousands of people began streaming into Egypt at the Sallum border crossing. Most were Egyptian workers, but almost 40,000 third country nationals also turned up at the border and had to wait until they could be repatriated. Today, with the spotlight long gone, a group of more than 2,000 people remain, mainly single young male refugees from the Sudan. But there are also women, children and the sick and elderly waiting for a solution to their situation. Most are likely to be resettled in third countries, but those who arrived after October are not being considered for resettlement, while some others have been rejected for refugee status. They live in tough conditions at the Egyptian end of the border crossing. A site for a new camp in no man's land has been identified. UNHCR, working closely with the border authorities, plays the major role in providing protection and assistance.

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

Portugal: Sahrawi Cultural GatheringPlay video

Portugal: Sahrawi Cultural Gathering

People from Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and from Western Sahara Territory meet for a cultural seminar in the Azores Islands as part of a confidence building measures programme.
UNHCR Syrians KhomsPlay video

UNHCR Syrians Khoms

The end of a long, silent journey: Two Eritreans in Libya Play video

The end of a long, silent journey: Two Eritreans in Libya

Two Eritreans set out on a perilous journey to Europe, crossing Sudan and the Sahara arriving in Libya during its 2011 revolution. They arrive in Tripoli having avoided the risks of detention and despite contending with a crippling handicap: both David and his wife Amitu are deaf and mute.