REFUGEES: Press Briefing by UNHCR Protection Director 1998.12.14

REFUGEES: Press Briefing by UNHCR Protection Director 1998.12.14

Source: UN New York

11 December 1998


The refugee protection regime was facing its most severe challenge in decades as a result of the increasing inclination on the part of governments to adopt restrictive policies against refugees, correspondents were told this afternoon at a Headquarters press briefing by Dennis McNamara, Director of the Division of International Protection for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Developed countries of the North were increasingly restricting the admission of asylum seekers and refugees, Mr. McNamara said. Furthermore, there was a tendency to lump the issues of refugees, illegal migration, drug trafficking and terrorism together, to the detriment of asylum seekers. Developing countries of the South were also saying "enough is enough". Many countries in Africa and Asia and elsewhere who had hosted large numbers of refugees for many years were starting to say that the burden was not equally shared and that they were no longer prepared to keep their borders open. Pointing to the policies in the North restricting entry, those countries were now indicating that they were now looking at similar measures.

There was an increasing non-international approach to protection of refugees, he said. Some cases went so far as to place legal restrictions on the refugee definition in applying the Convention on the Status of Refugees.

He said that as a result of this attitude, the UNHCR was facing the most severe challenge in decades to meeting responsibilities under the Convention to protect refugees. The UNHCR had embarked on a "reach out operation" to governments, non-governmental organizations, United Nations agencies, civil society, the media and even the private sector to try to mobilize a reinvigorated and renewed coalition in support of the refugee protection system. "We are very worried that this fragile system can only work effectively if it has proper support ... and the sort of responses that I've mentioned taking place are in danger of severely undermining it", he said.

The trend was also reflected in the United States, which had a proud history on refugee matters and was UNHCR's main donor, Mr.McNamara said. The United States had in place some of the most severe restrictions in its history, including expedited removal from United States airports, arbitrary detention for long periods of women and children and the mixing of refugees and asylum seekers with criminals in prisons. He emphasized that it was necessary tohave aproper legalbasis forsuch animportant areaof humanrights.

Asked what had to be done to change the worsening situation, Mr. McNamara said that it was a matter of implementation. The basic international principles should be implemented into practice, and that applied equally to both the refugee area and the area of human rights. He added that many States would like to move away from legally binding treaty approaches into the area of political discretion, which was a negative politicization of a human rights area.

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Date: Mon, 14 Dec 1998 22:56:37 +0300 (EAT) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: REFUGEES: Press Briefing by UNHCR Protection Director 1998.12.14

Editor: Ali B. Dinar,