UN High Commissioner Antonio Guterres criticises Australia’s ‘strange’ obsession with boats
Excerpts from his address and answers to questions at UNHCR NGO consultations, Geneva, 17 June, 2014.
I think it is .. important to underline that, especially from the perspective now of refugee protection, we are facing also the development in several parts of the world of manifestations of xenophobia and similar other problems – Islamophobia, racism – that are particularly worrying. If you analyse the result of the last European elections, you have seen that xenophobic parties made remarkable increases in the number of votes. And even from the point of view of, for instance, borders, we see, in several situations in the world, borders being closed. We see it in Egypt. We see it in Bulgaria. We see it in Australia. We see it in many other parts of the world – and manifestations of xenophobia at the same time targeting refugees in communities in very dramatic circumstances. The plight of Somalis for instance in many countries, including in African countries, is a very dramatic demonstration of this dimension…..
We will not fail to provide our colleagues the financial and other aspects of the capacity to go on monitoring when allowed the situation in Nauru but also in Papua New Guinea and eventually, if that will be the case, in Cambodia. This is something that we have been very worried about. The findings that were presented about Nauru clearly underline that Nauru is not a place where adequate protection can be granted. This is quite obvious. We insist that this is the responsibility of the country that receives the people and that this should be an Australian responsibility. The fact that Cambodia has signed the Convention doesn’t mean that Cambodia is an adequate space for meaningful protection for people in need. Our position has always been, as you know, very reluctant in relation to those agreements, very reserved in relation to them. Of course, we can do our best to support people in the circumstances where we might be able to operate. But that doesn’t mean that we are in agreement with this kind of extra processing of refugees without giving the guarantees that those found to be in need of protection will be accepted in countries, or be resettled to countries, where that protection can be effectively granted, which, of course, is not the case with Nauru and eventually will not be the case with Cambodia…
The problem is when we discuss boats and there, of course, we enter into a very, very, very dramatic thing. I think it is a kind of collective sociological and psychological question. (Australia) receives, I think, 180,000 migrants in a year. If you come to Australia in a different way, it’s fine but if they come in a boat it is like something strange happens to their minds. That problem I know that we have and it is a serious one. But if there is anything that we can help, we will do it.
Mr Guterres’ address and his responses to questions can be viewed at http://new.livestream.com/4am/unhcr
These extracts were supplied courtesy of the Refugee Council of Australia.