UNHCR, human rights groups: Don’t victimise refugees over Paris terrorist attacks

Written by on November 17, 2015 in Europe - Comments Off on UNHCR, human rights groups: Don’t victimise refugees over Paris terrorist attacks

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has expressed shock and horror at the November 13 attacks in Paris and the killing of so many innocent people but warned against the scapegoating of refugees, in the wake of the deadly attacks.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres conveyed his solidarity with the government and the people of France, as he did with the government of Lebanon, following the recent Beirut attacks, the UN News Centre said.

“We are deeply disturbed by language that demonises refugees as a group. This is dangerous as it will contribute to xenophobia and fear. The security problems Europe faces are highly complex. Refugees should not be turned into scapegoats and must not become the secondary victims of these most tragic events,” Melissa Fleming, UNHCR spokesperson told a media conference on November 17 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Fleming cautioned against the reactions of some UN member states to end the programmes being put in place, backtracking from commitments made to manage the refugee crisis, such as relocation, or proposing the erection of more barriers.

At the same time, she also expressed concern by the yet unconfirmed news that one of the Paris attackers may have entered Europe as part of the current influx of refugees and migrants.

“We strongly believe in the importance of preserving the integrity of the asylum system. Asylum and terrorism are not compatible with each other,” Fleming said, adding that the 1951 Refugee Convention excludes from its scope people who have committed serious crimes.

Fleming emphasised that the overwhelming majority of those coming to Europe are fleeing persecution or the life-threatening effects of conflict and are unable to reach safety in Europe by alternative avenues.

Also on November 17, human rights group Amnesty International said that in the wake of the November 13 attacks on Paris, the European Union (EU) must resist the urge to further seal off its external borders, which would continue to fuel a range of human rights abuses while doing nothing to enhance security or halt the influx of desperate refugees.

The organisation called for “managed, safe, legal routes into Europe and fair, efficient, rigorous screening processes that would meet the needs of refugees seeking protection in Europe and address the need for identifying possible security threats”.

The Amnesty International report released on November 17, Fear and Fences: Europe’s approach to keeping refugees at bay, reveals how moves to fence off land borders and enlist neighbouring countries, such as Turkey and Morocco, as gatekeepers, have denied refugees access to asylum, exposed refugees and migrants to ill-treatment and pushed people towards life-threatening sea journeys.

“The expanding fences along Europe’s borders have only entrenched rights violations and exacerbating the challenges of managing refugee flows in a humane and orderly manner,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“Giving in to fear in the wake of the atrocious attacks on Paris will not protect anyone. The numbers fleeing persecution and conflict have not gone away, nor has their entitlement to protection. In the wake of this tragedy, the failure to extend solidarity to people seeking shelter in Europe, often after fleeing the very same kind of violence, would be a cowardly abdication of responsibility and a tragic victory for terror over humanity.

“As long as there is violence and war, people will continue to come, and Europe must find better ways to offer protection. The EU and its front-line member states urgently need to rethink how they ensure safe and legal access to the EU both at its external land borders and in countries of origin and transit. This can be accomplished through the increased use of resettlement, family reunification and humanitarian visas.”

EU governments should take urgent action to bring Europe’s response to the refugee challenge, now a full blown EU crisis, in line with their legal responsibilities and stated values, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on November 16.

The 16-page report, “Europe’s Refugee Crisis: An Agenda for Action,” analyses the failings of the EU governments’ response to the crisis and sets out recommendations to improve Europe’s response across four broad areas: reducing the need for dangerous journeys; addressing the crisis at Europe’s borders; fixing the EU’s broken asylum system; and ensuring EU co-operation with other countries that improves refugee protection and respect for human rights.

“In a world of increasing displacement, conflict, and human rights abuse, EU leadership is more important than ever,” said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The horrific Paris attacks on November 13 underscore the need for an effective collective EU response to the refugee crisis that allows for orderly processing and proper screening for asylum seekers, including those fleeing ISIS violence in Syria and Iraq.”

(Photo: Asylum seekers and migrants descend from a large fishing vessel used to transport them from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. October 11, 2015. © 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch)

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