UN and faith groups highlight harsh treatment of refugees
Although the number of refugees in the world has actually been declining in recent years, attitudes towards them have been hardening ñ leading to exclusion and mistreatment of people fleeing oppression and threat to life.
This is one of the conclusions that will be drawn from a new United Nations report on the worldwide refugee situation to be published later today (19 April 2006).
It will confirm the fears of church, human rights and humanitarian groups that scaremongering about immigration issues ñ especially in the rich countries ñ is worsening the plight of displaced people.
The report, entitled Human Displacement in the New Millennium, will say that the number of refugees is slowly and steadily declining as a proportion of the worldís population and in absolute terms.
This is because there have been fewer of the conventional wars between states which force people to flee across international borders in the past five years.
With relative peace in the former Yugoslavia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and southern Sudan, substantial numbers have been able to return home, the report will argue.
However, the question of definition will dovetail into continuing political arguments about migration.
The report will point out that there has been a general blurring of distinctions between refugees and asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and economic migrants ñ and therefore the overall number of necessarily displaced people is still a major concern.
News agencies and broadcasters, including the BBC on its website and on the Radio 4 Today programme, are interpreting this blurring as working ìagainst genuine refugeesî.
But advocates of displaced people say that this analysis buys into the stereotype that only people physically forced to flee their countries are somehow ìgenuineî.
Simon Barrow of the UK religious think tank Ekklesia said today: ìThe idea that asylum seekers, unofficial migrants and those forced to move by poverty and hardship are somehow ëbogusí is false and inhuman. But it has become the common currency of much political discourse on migration, fuelled by tabloid newspapers, political parties and anti-immigrant pressure groups.î
Such myths and stereotypes are part of the reason for the growth of far-right groups in Europe, like the British National Party in Britain.
Ekklesia says that it is unfair and unreasonable to punish people for moving to survive in a global economy when capital is increasingly deregulated ñ and the conditions of employment, livelihood or family stability can be undermined with impunity.
ìThe rules of ëeconomic migrationí, which was vital to the flourishing of many Western nations back in history, have now been re-written to benefit the rich and punish the poorî, says Barrow.
He continued: ìIn the Thatcher years Norman Tebbitt told the UK unemployed to ëget on their bikesí to find work. But when economically marginalised people across the world do the same thing, they are often traduced and rejected.î
Ekklesia point to the strong biblical tradition of hospitality and generosity towards the sojourner and refugee, an ethical imperative shared by Christians and Jews, and supported by people of faith and non-believers of good faith across the world.
The publication of Human Displacement in the New Millennium coincides with the 2006 celebration of Passover, which marks the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in ancient Egypt - one of the most iconic refugee movements in history.
[Also on Ekklesia: Are immigration controls moral?; Book: Asylum and Immigration, a Christian view, by Nick Spencer; Catholic bishops in US say they will break immigration law; World churches criticise UK policies on asylum and immigration; Churches join US rallies to support justice for migrants; Methodist add warning over election treatment of asylum issue; Howardís 'false' anti-immigrant claims defy UN and churches]