GENEVA - The United Nations is warning the lives of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war and persecution are at risk from growing xenophobia.
The most recent figures put the number of refugees and internally displaced people at more than 65 million. U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi said the gravest displacement crisis continues to be generated in Syria.
“We have run out of words to describe the death, destruction and suffering willingly inflicted on civilians by the parties to that conflict, while states with the power to stop the war are simply unable to find the unity of intent required to do so,” said Grandi at the annual UNHCR refugee conference being held in Geneva.
The exodus of people from Syria has created the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. While praising Austria, Germany, and Sweden for receiving large numbers of refugees, Grandi denounces other European countries for closing their borders to those from Syria and other countries, making a chaotic situation even worse.
He says the right to asylum is being undermined by xenophobia as well as nationalistic and political rhetoric intent on linking refugees with security concerns and terrorism.
“The arrival of large numbers of refugees and migrants has created panic and political instability in the global north, fueled by irresponsible politicians. Restrictions in the laws governing asylum are being enforced in many countries, even among those with a proud tradition of refugee protection and human rights,” he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told delegates at the conference he is outraged by the bitter injustice of war.
“The situation in Syria is one of the most dramatic and tragic in the world. And, we must also remember the millions of other refugees from Yemen, Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, South Sudan and beyond. More than six decades of war,” he said.
Ban says the world has a responsibility to confront the reality of the staggering numbers of men, women and children being killed and wounded by war.
He says if there is a will and compassionate leadership, the problem of war and forcible displacement can be solved.