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UN Says More Countries Shutting Out Asylum Seekers

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The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says more and more countries are shutting their doors to asylum seekers, putting at risk the lives of thousands of people fleeing persecution and war. Guterres says the diminishing opportunities for asylum was one of the major concerns discussed at this year's refugee conference, which has just ended its weeklong session.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, calls the so-called shrinking of humanitarian space very troubling. While places of refuge for those in need of asylum are shrinking, he says the risks for humanitarian workers are increasing.

He says the environment in which humanitarians are working is becoming more difficult and dangerous. He says it is becoming harder for humanitarian workers to gain access to people in need. In some cases, such as in Sudan's conflict ridden province of Darfur, non-governmental organizations have been thrown out of the country.

He says the global economic crisis, job losses and feelings of insecurity are causing more and more rich countries to shut their doors.

"The truth is that we are witnessing in several countries xenophobic feelings to gain strength and because of that and the pressure, some governments are limiting access for people in need of protection to their territories," said Antonio Guterres. "And, not only that, we are witnessing more and more severe mechanisms in, for instance, granting refugee status or other forms of protection."

The High Commissioner says people are resorting to more desperate measures as asylum possibilities shrink. Many fall into the hands of traffickers who abuse them. Many have lost their lives while fleeing in rickety smugglers boats across the Gulf of Aden or the Mediterranean Sea.

He says asylum seekers from Africa and Asia meet a cool reception when they arrive in Europe. Many are locked up and, in some cases, pushed back to sea. He calls Europe's asylum system dysfunctional.

Guterres says the combination of the global economic and social crises together with the impacts of climate change and the growing scarcity of food, water and energy are helping to trigger and deepen conflicts.

"Humanitarians face this dilemma," he said. "There are more and more things to do and there are less and less resources available to support them. And, this creates a very difficult environment for humanitarian action in today's world."

The UNHCR reports there are about 42 million people around the world who have been forcibly uprooted by conflict and persecution. The agency helps care for 25 million of them.

Guterres says the most dangerous operations are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He says countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo also are very risky.