UN refugee chief calls for concerted action to defend asylum on International Day of Tolerance
GENEVA, November 16 (UNHCR) - Warning that rising intolerance is a "clear danger" to the institution of asylum, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Wednesday called for concerted action to combat xenophobia and extremism.
"Rising intolerance is a clear danger to world peace, the safety of refugees and the social cohesion of societies," Guterres said in a message marking the International Day of Tolerance today. "Societies are becoming more and more multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. Only in a tolerant environment can complex societal problems be solved."
Guterres, who has described the growth of intolerance as one of the main challenges facing his organisation, was echoing the words of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who said this week that fighting intolerance in all its forms has been fundamental to the work of the United Nations for 60 years.
"The need for tolerance is greater today than at any time in the United Nations' past," Annan said. "In a world of intense economic competition, shifting populations and shrinking distances, the pressures of living together with people of different cultures and different beliefs from one's own are very real. The resultant backlash is evident in the rise of xenophobia and extremism across the globe. It demands our strongest response."
High Commissioner Guterres stressed the need for concerted action by governments, civil society and the media to fight intolerance and preserve asylum.
"Refugees who flee intolerance at home are increasingly finding more intolerance in the countries where they seek protection," he explained. "The fight against intolerance requires concerted action by all countries. We must join together and stand against irrationality, suspicion and the clamour for exclusion. Rather than bowing to populist opinion, we must hold fast to universal values and principles - including protecting those in need. The institution of asylum must be defended and cherished at all costs."
UNHCR has identified the lack of understanding, empathy, respect and tolerance for refugees and their plight as one of the main challenges to refugee protection, particularly in industrialised countries but also in a growing number of developing states.
A former Portuguese prime minister, Guterres became UNHCR's tenth High Commissioner on June 15. UNHCR, established on December 14, 1950, by the UN General Assembly, has won two Nobel Peace Prizes for its work and today cares for more than 19 million refugees and others of concern worldwide.