From Volker Türk’s remarks at the 133rd Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union General Debate —
Yet the single-most important challenge to the protection of refugees, as well as to reaping the development potential of migration more broadly comes from populist politics and uninformed public debates. They engender a climate of fear. In some countries there has been a proliferation of xenophobic and Islamophobic narratives, hate speech, fear-mongering, and inflammatory statements –both at the political and civil society levels. In some instances this has even led to arson or other violent attacks directed against refugees as well as migrants.
We have also noted with concern that the terms “refugee” and “migrant” have in many instances been used interchangeably in the media and public discourse. The two terms have different meanings, and conflating them has serious consequences for the lives and safety of refugees. Both migrants and refugees are protected under international human rights law, but the failure to mention refugees specifically is a failure to recognise their unique predicament – their lack of national protection, the risks they face should they return to their home countries, and our obligations to protect them under a legal framework crafted specifically for them. This can undermine public support for the institution of asylum at a time when more refugees need such protection than ever before.
Preserving the institution of asylum is critical. Asylum is literally life-saving, and has ensured the survival of millions of people for decades. This is not to say that the problems and challenges of today’s large-scale mixed migration movements are not real, particularly in relation to adequate shelter, reception, security concerns, as well as burden- and responsibility-sharing. However, the situation is manageable and needs to be addressed in a manner that is consistent with obligations under international law to protect asylum-seekers and refugees.
All of this suggests that the more fundamental crisis that we are facing today is perhaps one of values –the same values that we had sworn never to forget after the atrocities of the Second World War and that are embodied in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.