Lubbers cautions against linking asylum and terrorism
GENEVA, 5 Oct. (UNHCR) - Stressing the importance of continued international refugee protection, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers on Friday urged governments to avoid making an unwarranted link between asylum and terrorism in the wake of the recent attacks on the United States.
"We must ensure that the fight against terrorism does not weaken the refugee protection regime in other ways," Lubbers said in closing remarks to UNHCR's annual Executive Committee meeting. "All of you can play a role in conveying to your governments that the 1951 Refugee Convention is not misrepresented as an instrument that provides safe haven for terrorists."
"On the contrary," he told the 57-member UNHCR governing body, "it is carefully framed to exclude persons who committed particularly serious crimes."
While acknowledging that the international community needs to fight terrorism and abuses by those seeking asylum, the High Commissioner emphasised that "no unwarranted links should be made between refugees and terrorism, or refugees and crime."
At a news conference following the Executive Committee meeting, Lubbers stressed the need to find long-lasting solutions to the refugee problem. "The lack of solutions results in people feeling degraded and fuels crime. That is exactly what we don't want."
While admitting that the situation had become more difficult in many countries for asylum seekers since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Lubbers said there had not been an exceptional increase in discrimination against Muslims or Afghans around the world.
He added that there should be a two-prong approach to the current refugee crisis in Afghanistan - maintaining the Pakistani and Iranian borders open to refugees fleeing an expected conflict while at the same time providing direct aid to the Afghan people. He said that until now the Taliban regime had prevented the agency from working inside Afghanistan, but added that he expected this situation would now change.
The High Commissioner also called on governments to fully fund UNHCR's $828 million budget for 2002, noting that current projections for the coming year indicate a shortfall of at least ten percent. In addition, more than $100 million remains outstanding for 2001 of a total budget of $882 million.
UNHCR this year reduced its staff by 16 percent and its budget by roughly 10 percent to meet projected income. At the same time, Lubbers noted, donor governments continue to press UNHCR to improve the quality and performance of its work on behalf of the world's 21.8 million refugees.
The High Commissioner said donor countries had already met the $100 million emergency request he made to deal with the crisis in Afghanistan, and said he expected the agency would receive a "substantive" amount of the $320 million pledged by the Bush Administration to help that country. But he warned against depriving other operations of funds because of the current crisis.
"Afghanistan contributions should not come at the exclusion of other refugee programmes," Lubbers told the Executive Committee. "We cannot afford to let any of our present refugee operations be forgotten."