UN refugee chief warns against politicizing plight of refugees

Filippo Grandi urges developed countries to show generosity to those fleeing conflict or risk undermining principle of solidarity.

On the third day of his visit to Syria, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi met displaced people in Aleppo and witnessed the destruction. Here, he meets children taking part in recreational activities in Jibreen, where 5,000 people are living in shelters inside warehouses in the city's industrial district.  © UNHCR/Bassam Diab

BEIRUT, Lebanon – UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi on Friday warned developed countries against politicizing the issue of refugees, saying the move risked undermining the principle of international solidarity with those fleeing war and persecution.

Speaking after a landmark four-day visit to Syria where he witnessed first-hand the massive destruction caused by nearly six years of conflict, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees urged rich countries to show generosity to refugees, rather than regarding them as a threat.

“These are people that flee from danger, they’re not dangerous themselves.”

“We have serious concerns, and these are not new concerns, we’ve had them for some time, that the refugee issue in the industrialised world – in Europe, the US, Australia – is very politicized. It shouldn’t be,” Grandi told a press conference in Beirut.

“These are people that flee from danger, they’re not dangerous themselves,” he said.

Grandi, the first senior UN official to visit Syria since Turkey and Russia brokered a nationwide ceasefire last month, said the recent decision by the United Stated to suspend its refugee resettlement programme would negatively impact the most vulnerable individuals.

“Resettlement means taking refugees from places like Lebanon, where they are already refugees, selecting the most vulnerable and taking them to other places,” he said. “If we weaken that programme, as has been done in the United States, this is a very dangerous weakening of the international solidarity for refugees.”

UNHCR estimates that 20,000 refugees in precarious circumstances might have been resettled to the United States in the 120 days covered by the suspension. Grandi expressed his hope that the US would resume resettlements following its internal review of the programme.

 

While in Syria, the High Commissioner met with those struggling to rebuild their lives amid the ruins of east Aleppo and the old city of Homs, and he underlined the urgent humanitarian needs facing millions of ordinary Syrians.

He described progress in his discussions with the Syrian government on humanitarian access in hard-to-reach areas, and expressed hope that some aid convoys could reach parts of Homs in the coming days.

On the issue of refugees returning to Syria, the High Commissioner said that while many were keen to go home, the political and security situation in the country currently made it impossible for large numbers to do so.

“People need to return eventually to Syria, and we all agree that that’s the ideal solution. But we need to be patient,” he said. “More progress needs to be made politically, then economically and infrastructure-wise in order for conditions to be there to have large returns.”