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High Commissioner's Message on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

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High Commissioner's Message on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Statement by Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
21 March 2021 Also available in:
Germany. Refugee student delegation visits Free University of Berlin on World Refugee Day 2019
Refugee students meet in Berlin, Germany, on World Refugee Day 2019.

Over the past year, we’ve witnessed the deadly impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the scourge of racism has also devastated many lives with tragic consequences.

Violent and deadly attacks against Black, Brown, Asian and Indigenous people, toxic language, and daily and sustained racially charged acts have rightly forced painful - but necessary - conversations to re-examine prejudice, privilege, the way we view the world, and most importantly how we act.

We must take this opportunity to work towards a world that is not just against racism, but is actively anti-racist.

As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, I have seen first hand how racism and racial discrimination are a root cause of persecution and displacement. Actively combatting racism and racial discrimination can and will help prevent this. It will also reduce the dangerous discrimination and stigmatization that all too often confronts refugees in their countries of asylum.

A failure to eliminate racial discrimination will continue to force innocent people to flee and fear for their lives. 

But today is not only a recognition of the need for others to act. We must all pause and reflect on ourselves, our organizations, and our actions. UNHCR is looking inwards to build a more diverse and inclusive workforce to deliver on our mandate and respond to the needs of displaced and stateless people around the world.

We are working to become better cognizant of our unconscious bias and to eliminate discrimination to become a more anti-racist, non-discriminatory organization. This is my commitment as High Commissioner: to ensure that UNHCR is an organization where diversity is not only valued, but where every colleague feels seen, heard, and represented.

This year on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination I call on all of us to renew our commitment to listen, stand up, speak out, and actively combat racism and racial discrimination. Racism and racial discrimination against anyone of us hurts all of us.

More information:

  • UNHCR has issued guidance on addressing racism and xenophobia, providing practical examples and best practices for our operations around the world.


  • The Global Compact on Refugees places ending discrimination of any kind based on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, disability, age, or other status at the centre of action to prevent displacement and to ensure peaceful coexistence between refugee and host communities. 


  • In pursuit of becoming an anti-racist, non-discriminatory organization, UNHCR has  commissioned an independent internal review to establish a baseline and action plan for this work and the establishment of an Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Advisory Group of workforce members drawn from across the organisation.


  • UNHCR’s efforts to address and respond to racism and racial discrimination focus on the following priorities:
    • UNHCR advocates for the human rights of refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced persons, returnees and stateless persons must be ensured without discrimination. 
    • Strong laws and policies to combat racism, xenophobia, hate crimes and hate speech are essential.
    • UNHCR calls for access to justice and effective remedies for victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, hate crimes or hate speech and for holding those responsible to account.
    • UNHCR encourages the inclusion of persons under its mandate in all exercises and platforms monitoring and collecting disaggregated data documenting racial discrimination, racism, xenophobia, hate crimes and hate speech.
    • UNHCR promotes education on the rights of persons under its mandate and messages encouraging inclusion, diversity, empathy and tolerance.
    • UNHCR considers that everyone can play a role to prevent and stop racism and xenophobia that affect refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced persons, returnees and stateless persons.