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UN Commissioner Calls Refugees Victims, not Terrorists

Antonio Guterres
The new U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says one of his main goals is to convince the public, particularly in the developed world, that refugees are not terrorists.

Mr. Guterres, who took over as head of the U.N. refugee agency two weeks ago, says societies should be more generous in dealing with refugees and asylum seekers.

"Asylum seekers and refugees are not terrorists," he said. "They are the first victims of terror. Refugees are leaving their countries, because they flee persecution. They flee civil wars. I do believe that in a society that needs to fight terror, that needs at the same time to have a reasonable policy regarding its borders, the same society needs to cherish the institution of asylum."

Mr. Guterres also appealed to governments that expect large inflows of refugees to respect international law, which forbids the forced repatriation of refugees and asylum seekers.

The former prime minister of Portugal praised Uganda's generosity toward Sudanese refugees. But Mr. Guterres said attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army on internally displaced people in the northeastern part of the nation and on Sudan itself are creating instability. Mr. Guterres visited refugee camps in northern Uganda a week ago.

"For instance, our transit center, that was supposed to act as an outpost to help people return from Uganda to Sudan, is now receiving a new inflow of Sudanese refugees into Uganda, which means that the situation in south Sudan will be difficult to manage," he added. "We will probably still face certain delays before a massive return of refuges from Uganda into Sudan can materialize."

Mr. Guterres said he also wants to engage in a dialogue with China on the issue of North Korean refugees and defectors.

The United Nations estimates that some 19 million people across the globe fall into the category of refugees and asylum seekers.