6-4-2012By Eleanor Acer
Refugee Protection Program
Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from South Sudan and Eritrea have been the targets of brutal attacks, firebombing and lootings in Israel, as highlighted in a June 2nd piece in The Economist, entitled Israel and its black immigrants: Keep out and a recent post by the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society in the Huffington Post. A volunteer with The Hotline for Migrant Workers in Israel recently reported witnessing the aftermath of violence – including an attack on an Eritrean refugee who was carrying a child and the stoning of a Sudanese refugee. Refugees and migrant workers from Africa have been described by some Israeli senior politicians as “infiltrators” and a threat to the “social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity.”
In too many places around the world, refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and others viewed as “foreign” have been the targets of violent attacks. In its recent report Combatting Xenophobic Violence: A Framework for Action, Human Rights First documents examples of xenophobic violence from around the world including in the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Greece, Russia, South Africa and the United States. As detailed in Combatting Xenophobic Violence, there is much that states can and should do to address this threat to human rights, including:
- Acknowledge and condemn acts of bias-motivated violence whenever they occur;
- Enact hate crimes laws, strengthen enforcement, and prosecute offenders;
- Monitor and report on attacks; and
- Reach out to affected communities to reduce fear, assist victims, and improve reporting of incidents.
Drawing on its many years of analyzing different forms of bias-motivated violence – such as violence against LGBT persons, migrants and refugees, racial, religious and other minorities including anti-Semitic violence – Human Rights First has developed a comprehensive Ten-Point Plan for Combating Hate Crime that sets out practical steps that all states can take to address all forms of hate crimes. Swift, clear and consistent public condemnations of violence along with the other steps outlined by Human Rights First in its Ten-Point plan are key to preventing further violence.
Xenophobic violence is a serious threat to the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and migrants around the world as was recognized at a recent panel discussion in Washington DC organized by Human Rights First. Providing opening remarks to the event, then Acting- Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration David Robinson noted that it is “our duty to combat, to exorcise, the pernicious kind of hatred that picks on the world’s most vulnerable people, the kind of hatred that goes after refugees, IDPs, stateless people, gay and lesbian people, religious and ethnic minorities and anybody else who is different, who is alien.”
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has stressed that challenges related to xenophobia “constitute a serious threat to the overall protection environment for people of concern” to the agency. In line with its mandate and responsibilities – and as it moves forward to address the protection challenges facing urban refugees – UNHCR has an important role to play in working with governments, other international organizations, civil society and victims to better document xenophobic violence that affects persons of concern to UNHCR, assist victims in reporting violence to the authorities and advocating for accountability through criminal justice systems.
While UNHCR staff in a number of countries are attempting to address these challenges, as detailed in Combatting Xenophobic Violence, UNHCR, with the support of the United States and other donor states, should also take additional steps to improve protection for asylum seekers, refugees, stateless and other persons of concern to the agency, including:
- Develop operational guidance and models of effective approaches to assist UNHCR country offices as they design and implement protection strategies – and ensure headquarters has the increased protection capacity to move these efforts forward now - so that country offices are better equipped to address these problems as quickly as possible;
- Advocate that states take the steps outlined above and that government leaders condemn attacks and prosecute perpetrators to send a clear signal that violence will not be tolerated; and
- Work with OHCHR, IOM and other key partners to develop a proactive plan and coordination mechanism for addressing xenophobic and other forms of bias-related violence.
This global problem will only escalate if not effectively addressed. Investing time and resources now will help prevent more violence in the future.