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Visiting UN refugee chief underscores humanitarian considerations

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Visiting UN refugee chief underscores humanitarian considerations

18 September 2001

WASHINGTON - UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers today urged US leaders to carefully weigh the humanitarian consequences of any actions in Afghanistan.

"It is important to be aware of the already desperate plight of millions of Afghan civilians and of the humanitarian consequences to ordinary people while formulating policy options," said Lubbers. "Thousands of people in Afghanistan are already on the move, joining millions others who were displaced inside and outside the country even before the latest crisis. We must do everything we can to avoid further displacement of innocent civilians," he added.

Lubbers also expressed in person his deepest condolences to US officials and to the American people for the tragic loss of life resulting from last week's terrorist attacks. Lubbers had sent a condolence letter to President George W. Bush last week.

Lubbers also appealed to Americans to guard against any xenophobic backlash, particularly in view of recent incidents against Arab and Muslim communities in the United States.

Lubbers made the remarks while on an official visit to Washington, DC, where he met with State Department and other US officials.

The United States has always been a strong supporter of that cause and a haven of hope and safety for the world's refugees. Lubbers urged Americans to stand firm and to continue that generous tradition.

"We at UNHCR are shocked and saddened by the deaths of so many innocent civilians and by the horrendous destruction we have seen in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania," Lubbers said. "As emotions run high and while Americans and the rest of the world grieve following last Tuesday's terrorist attacks, we should refrain from pointing fingers and inciting hatred against innocent groups such as refugees."

Lubbers' comments echoed earlier public statements by President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Sen. Edward Kennedy and other political, religious and community leaders condemning attacks against civilians based on race, religion or national origin.

"The American people have a proud history of helping people who have fled oppression and brutality and who have sought freedom and democracy,' Lubbers said. "It is my fervent hope and belief that this American tradition of generosity and respect for the lives and well-being of refugees will endure.