After Paris Attacks, Refugees should not be turned into scapegoats

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 17 November 2015, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR expresses its shock and horror at the attacks in Paris and the killing of so many innocent people. The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has conveyed his solidarity with the government and people of France as he also did with the government of Lebanon following the recent deadly attacks in Beirut.

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. Precarious situations in countries of first asylum are also driving many to leave for Europe.

Many are fleeing extremism and terrorism - from the very people associated with the Paris attacks.

UNHCR is deeply concerned by the yet unconfirmed news that one of the attackers in Paris might have entered Europe as part of the current influx. We strongly believe in the importance of preserving the integrity of the asylum system. Asylum and terrorism are not compatible with each other. The 1951 Refugee Convention is clear about that and in fact excludes from its scope people who have committed serious crimes.

From the beginning, we have been urging States to immediately to put in place an effective reception, registration and screening mechanism immediately upon arrival. For those determined to be refugees, protection should be provided and eligible asylum-seekers should be relocated under the EU plan.

Relocation and other agreed measures can improve the management and stabilisation of current flows of people. These measures include security measures and the proper registration of all those on the move.

We are concerned about reactions by some States to end the programs being put in place, backtracking from commitments made to manage the refugee crisis (i.e. relocation), or proposing the erection of more barriers. 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.

It also points to 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.

The security of our societies and ensuring the integrity of asylum in Europe are objectives that are not incompatible. These are central to maintaining European core values and protecting the right to seek asylum.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva, Melissa Fleming on +41 79 557 9122
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva, William Spindler on +41 79 217 3011
  • In Paris, Celine Schmitt on mobile +33 623 16 1178