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UN: Refugees Increasingly Being Refused Asylum

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The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, is appealing to countries to open their borders to asylum seekers. He says the number of places where people fleeing conflict and persecution can find refuge is shrinking and this is forcing desperate people to resort to risky measures to find a safe haven. The High Commissioner outlined some of the most important challenges facing the UNHCR in an opening speech of the 60th annual refugee conference.

This pictorial montage shows just a few of the 42 million people who have been uprooted by conflict and persecution. The pictures convey the anguish of refugees seeking asylum and a roof over their heads. They show what the U.N. refugee agency calls real people with real needs from basic access to clean water to protection.

"I am gravely concerned by the shrinking asylum space, mostly but not exclusively in the developed world," said Antonio Guterres. "These are times of economic crisis, of job losses. And, if I remember well, in times of economic difficulties, there are two easy scapegoats-governments and foreigners."

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says he is concerned about the global trend toward greater restrictions and fewer rights for asylum seekers. He accuses some developed countries of violating international and regional law by limiting access to those in need of refuge.

"Pushing asylum-seekers back to where protection is not available or further burdening developing countries who already host the vast majority of the world's refugees is not wise and is not acceptable," he said.

The High Commissioner warns that global conflicts are becoming more complex and lines that used to clearly separate the civilian and the military are increasingly becoming blurred.

"There are peacekeepers where there is no peace to keep becoming parties to the conflict, while militaries are more and more undertaking "humanitarian" work in an effort to win hearts and minds," said Guterres. "And, the resulting confusion is cynically and brutally exploited by some belligerents to target humanitarian workers."

The U.N.'s top Human Rights Official, Navi Pillay, pinpoints discrimination as the source of forced displacement. She says no society is immune from this scourge. She examines the suffering endured by victims of intolerance and inequality and is particularly worried about the plight of women and girls.

"Harmful traditional practices, including genital mutilation, discriminatory customs, such as forced marriages, and outright attacks continue to be factors that make women flee conditions of unbearable hardship," said Navi Pillay.

Pillay is urging countries to repeal laws and practices that reduce women and girls to second-class citizens.