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United Kingdom attacks on asylum seekers

Briefing notes

United Kingdom attacks on asylum seekers

10 August 2001

UNHCR is deeply concerned about the outbreak of vicious attacks on asylum-seekers in the UK over the past week. A 22-year-old Turkish Kurd asylum-seeker, Firsat Yildiz, was murdered in Glasgow last Sunday; an Iranian asylum-seeker on the same housing estate was stabbed on Tuesday night; and another asylum-seeker was stabbed in the throat, also on Tuesday, in the English city of Hull. UNHCR would like to offer its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Firsat Yildiz.

Three such attacks in the space of three days is a very alarming development, but in UNHCR's view was sadly predictable given the climate of vilification of asylum-seekers that has taken hold in the UK in recent years. In some mass circulation newspapers, asylum-seekers are continually branded a problem, statistics are being twisted and negative stories are being endlessly highlighted. This often-deliberate attempt to tarnish the name of an entire group has been so successful that the words "asylum-seeker" and "refugee" have even become a term of abuse in school playgrounds.

Recently the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, wrote the following in an editorial: "Asylum-seekers make a perfect target for people who want to invoke the age-old prejudice against foreigners. Asylum-seekers can't answer back. 'Illegal'; 'bogus'; 'flood'; 'fraudulent'; 'criminal'; 'scrounger'; 'trafficking' - all are words commonly paired with the term 'asylum-seeker'. Such words drip into the public consciousness until they become self-fulfilling - the 'public opinion' they help shape stimulates the formulation of increasingly restrictive and harsher policies."

They also fuel a climate of vitriol that all too easily turns into violence. Once again, UNHCR urges politicians and some sections of the media to deal responsibly with the issue.