Security and refugee protection are complementary, says UNHCR
NEW YORK – It is often seen as a stark choice: protect the millions of men, women and children fleeing terrorism around the world, or safeguard national security.
But in an address to a key security forum in New York today, UNHCR’s protection chief stressed that protecting refugees and ensuring the security of the countries that receive them are in fact complementary goals.
“Measures to ensure access to safety and protection for those in need, including those fleeing terror, can also help safeguard the security of transit and host countries and communities,” Volker Türk, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, told the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee in New York.
There are currently 21.7 million refugees worldwide, among them more than five million who have fled more than six years of war in Syria, the majority of them seeking refuge in the countries immediately neighbouring their war-torn homeland.
In response to refugee flows, some countries have imposed restrictive border controls or visa requirements, which - while often justified in the name of security – do little to achieve this.
Far from making host countries safer, such approaches could aggravate security risks by driving refugees into the arms of smugglers and traffickers and creating a situation that terrorist groups can exploit, Türk cautioned.
Furthermore, branding refugees as security threats “risks opening the door to xenophobic and racist rhetoric and can even lead to physical attacks directed against refugees,” he said.
The 15- member UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee was set up in the wake of the September 11 2001 attacks to monitor efforts to curb and combat terrorist activities.
In his speech, Türk noted that better and more effective responses are underwritten by the 1951 Refugee Convention – and other subsequent international accords and agreements.
They ensure an orderly processing of refugees, through biometric registration and background screening, which enhances states’ security both at national borders and in the resettlement process. At the same time, the measures ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to protect the rights of refugees and those seeking asylum.
“When asylum-seekers and refugees are promptly registered and have their status determined in a fair and efficient manner, States can be more confident of who is on their territory,” he said.
Ensuring that refugees are included in national life once they have arrived, through access to work, education, and social services, can prevent exclusion and marginalization that can lead to disempowerment, disenfranchisement, and in some extreme cases, radicalization, Türk said.
UNHCR continues to work with States to develop and implement protection-sensitive border management systems to achieve this, he noted.
You can read the full text of this speech here.