For years, people fleeing from war and oppression have sought asylum in nearby countries.
Now, the United Nations is warning that countries are increasingly using refugees as tools to support their local and national interests.
Filippo Grandi is the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He says many refugees are being used as pawns as traditional guarantees of asylum appear to be breaking down.
Grandi spoke at the refugee agency’s annual conference this week in Geneva, Switzerland.
The UNHCR reports a record 65.6 million people had been forcibly displaced by war and persecution worldwide by the end of 2016. This includes 22.5 million refugees who had crossed from one country to another. The UNHCR reports that, in 2017 alone, more than two million people have fled their countries as refugees.
Grandi told the delegates that in just five weeks, 500-thousand Rohingya fled from violence in Myanmar. During the same period, he noted, more than 50,000 people fled South Sudan, while 18,000 others were escaping clashes in the Central African Republic.
Grandi said that in some ways refugees have always been used for political purposes. But he said the problem has worsened in recent years. He said refugees have become a major issue in local and national politics and even in relationships between governments.
“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 told the conference that immigration and asylum policies have become more restrictive in some countries. He said some countries that welcomed refugees in the past also have their own histories of exile and migration.
He added that refugee protection is weakening in many areas, including in industrialized countries. He says protection of refugees is breaking down in traditional countries of asylum in Europe, the United States and Australia.
I’m Alice Bryant.