With an estimated three million of its people exiled in South Africa alone, Zimbabwe is one of the world’s highest refugee-producing countries. Most of the exiles are being suppressed and harassed in their host countries.
The UNHCR Chief said “dramatic” events had forced hundreds of thousands of people to seek refuge across borders in 2011, when more than 750 000 people became refugees, following upheaval and conflict in Africa and the Middle East.
“Global forced displacement figures already stood at a 15-year high at the end of 2010, with 43.7 million people uprooted by conflict and persecution worldwide,” he said. “Recent events indicate that this number is likely to rise again by the end of the year. These events have amply demonstrated why it is so important to do what we have gathered here to do: to reengage with and recommit to the core values underpinning the entire system of international protection – tolerance, solidarity and respect for human rights and human dignity.”
He accused some populist politicians and irresponsible elements of the media of exploiting feelings of fear and insecurity to scapegoat foreigners, trying to force the adoption of restrictive policies and actively spreading racist and xenophobic sentiments.
“Having been in government myself for many years, I know that no state can disregard the security of its citizens, their social and economic well-being and the cohesion of society,” he said. “States also have the right to define their own immigration policies; provided they do so in respect for human dignity and basic rights. But all this can be done, and needs to be done, in ways that ensure protection is granted to those who need it. This means guaranteeing their access to territory, fair treatment of their asylum claims and adequate integration policies that contributes to social harmony.”
He said that despite the 1951 Convention, implementation challenges remained. Many refugees still do not enjoy the minimum standards it sets out, as many systems are marred by poor quality decision-making, disproportionately low recognition rates or a lack of access to legal services.
“In many situations, refugees do also not have freedom of movement, access to social care or permission to work. The burden of hosting large refugee populations is borne predominantly by developing countries. They have granted asylum to 80 per cent of the world’s refugees, and more than one third of the 20 top refugee-hosting states are Least Developed Countries. As many of these states struggle to provide even basic services to their own populations, the generosity they show towards hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighbouring countries demands an effort that is disproportionate to the resources at their disposal.”Post published in: Africa News