GENEVA - The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, warns that asylum for people fleeing war and persecution is eroding as countries increasingly use refugees as a political football to further their local and national interests.
As the UNHCR opened its annual weeklong refugee conference in Geneva, the agency reports a record 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced by war and persecution worldwide as of the end of last year, including 22.5 million refugees who had crossed international borders. So far this year, the UNHCR reports more than two million people have fled their countries as refugees.
In a somber assessment of the current global situation, Grandi noted that in just five weeks, half a million Rohingya refugees have fled terrifying violence in Myanmar. During the same period, he says more than 50,000 refugees were fleeing South Sudan, 18,000 were escaping fierce clashes in the Central African Republic - and the list goes on.
Grandi said refugees, in some ways, always have been used for political purposes. But, he added that this seems to have escalated in recent years. He said refugees have become a prominent issue in local and national politics and even in relationships between countries.
“Protection is constantly being tested. And, at times, it even seems that refugees have become a commodity, traded between states. Principled leadership has frequently given way to an erosion of refugee rights, driven by confused and sometimes frightened public opinions often stirred up by irresponsible politicians,” Grandi said.
Consequently, he said immigration and asylum measures have become more restrictive, even in previously welcoming countries that have their own histories of exile and migration.
Grandi said refugee protection is eroding in many parts of the world, including in industrialized countries. He said the protection environment is deteriorating in traditional countries of asylum in Europe, in the United States, in Australia.