The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is expressing concern that more governments are hardening their attitudes against refugees and are shutting their doors to people in need of help. Representatives from 68 countries begin the UNHCR's annual conference Monday in Geneva.
The U.N. Refugee Agency says it is very concerned that international protection for refugees and asylum seekers is slipping away.
UNHCR Spokesman Ron Redmond says nations often confuse economic migrants, who are searching for a better life for themselves and their families, with people fleeing persecution and violence. He also says many countries have legitimate fears about terrorism and are concerned about migration control.
"They are entitled to guard their borders to control migration," Mr. Redmond says. "They do face problems with international crime and trafficking, smuggling, and terrorism, and we understand that. But we also want to convey the message that we need to work together to ensure that those who deserve international protection get it. "
Mr. Redmond says it is ironic that more countries are shutting their doors to legitimate refugees at a time when the number of asylum seekers is at an all-time low. The UNHCR cares for nine-million international refugees.
Mr. Redmond says the week-long UNHCR Conference will also discuss the gap between humanitarian relief and long-term development. He says the United Nations helps refugees who return home to restart their lives, but he says the UNHCR is not a development agency.
He says countries that have been at war need international assistance to stabilize their fragile peace. He says studies show that 50-percent of conflicts occur within five years after a peace agreement has ended previous fighting in that country.
He says this is an issue that must be addressed, especially because of repatriation operations set to begin in Africa.
"Africa is really not the basket case that a lot of people think. We have repatriated a lot of people to Africa over the past several years. And in 2005, this year, we expect half a million people to go home," Mr. Redmond says. "We are preparing for a couple of major repatriation operations to southern Sudan and to Burundi. We are looking for some 500-thousand Sudanese, namely from Uganda and Kenya who will be going home, hopefully beginning within the next month or so."
But Mr. Redmond says the refugees will only stay home if the international community helps them rebuild their shattered societies and economies.