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Monday, 6 August, 2001, 07:56 GMT 08:56 UK
Time to reform refugee rules?
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The last decade has seen the largest-ever numbers of people seeking refuge from persecution, war and disaster.

As the Geneva Convention on refugees celebrates its 50th anniversary, many are calling for it to be reformed.

Some governments say the convention is being abused by economic migrants, seeking a better life in rich countries.

Human rights campaigners claim that the convention does not address the realities of modern conflicts, where millions are being displaced within their own countries.

Do you think it is time to change the rules governing asylum? Have you ever been a refugee?

The new UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers joined Talking Point, the phone-in programme of the BBC World Service answered your questions live on air.

  • Read what you have said since the programme
  • Your comments before the programme
  • Your comments during the programme

    This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


    Your reaction

    Your comments since the programme


    It seems that the majority of immigrants just want to settle down and earn a living

    Nick, UK
    Seeing as ethnic minorities run virtually all the service industries in London, as work harder for less money than the British population, it seems that the majority of immigrants just want to settle down and earn a living for their families rather than sponge of the state. Of course there are exceptions, but I'd like to see your average Brit in China working for a minimum wage (or less) 12 hours a day.
    Nick, UK

    I am probably a classical example of a refugee. I was born in Afghanistan and after the Soviet invasion I was sent to USSR for higher education. Having graduated from university I was forced to flee or face a deportation back to Afghanistan as I was no longer a student. I'd like to tell you how have I changed and people I have met during my forced stay in Britain. First of all in my personal experience it seems as though an absolute majority of the so-called refugees are indeed desperate economic migrants, mainly from Pakistan and India. I was shocked to see that some Pakistanis use Afghan national passports in order to get a greater chance of stay in Britain. I found out that this had been a common practice. Unfortunately the number of fraudulent cases is far greater than genuine cases and the scale of corruption in the UK is such, that those with better connections get ahead. In other words the system is not working and is to the detriment of genuine refugees.

    Despite some progress in my personal life I admit that over the last few years I have become extremely suspicious of what used to be known as liberal values. I, now, deeply regret the collapse of the USSR and probably would've favoured the puppet pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. I hope that in two years time I will eventually able to leave the UK and I admit I'll take with me a very specific opinion about British multi-racialism and England as a whole.
    Afghan, England

    I just think it's sad that so many ordinary people in the UK are being deceived into thinking that there's a "problem" with refugees coming to the UK. The reality is that we aren't being "flooded", and the government isn't spending much money on refugees, either. If there's a 'problem', it's that large parts of the world are very unsafe. Of course Slovak Romanies need to seek refuge in the EU; they're being persecuted in Slovakia. And the reason we're seeing some Bosnians, Kosovans and Albanians in London is that those countries aren't very safe either. Rather than worrying that we're a "soft touch", maybe we need to ask if the draconian immigration policies in mainland Europe might be the reason that people are now so desperate that they'll risk their lives to get across the Channel. There is only one solution to the "problem" in the long-term; do more to address the fact that so much of the world is virtually uninhabitable for ordinary families.
    Rich, London, UK

    I reply to MH, Brighton & Hove. You say 'racism is now rife in this county'. NOW? Ask any Asian or West Indian who emigrated to this country 30-40 years ago. Racism has ALWAYS been rife in this country. Familiarity and mutual understanding brings tolerance and I believe (at least I like to believe) that racism has actually reduced over the years. Of course, there will always be a minority who choose to live in ignorance, and an even smaller minority who manipulate that ignorance for their own political purposes.

    You complain that no one asked you if you wanted a multicultural Britain. When has there ever been a single culture across the whole of Britain? Tell a Scot that he shares the same culture as the English and you are likely to receive short shrift. The Welsh and the Irish wouldn't be too happy at being lumped in with the English either, even within England there have been "cultural" differences between north and south, east and west. There are large numbers of Scots, Welsh and Irish people living in England, bringing the influence of their "culture" with them, nobody asked you if you wanted it, but do you object? So by what criteria do you accept the influence of certain cultures but reject others? I think we can all guess.
    Mick B, U.K.

    It is difficult to feel anything but pity for asylum seekers, whether they be bona-fide or economic migrants. The UK Government is, however, the main obstacle to reforming a system that is failing those who flee genuine persecution. The Government, is so morally hamstrung on the whole issue, that, they cannot address the problems, that our children will inherit.
    Mark, UK

    The world is a large enough place to accommodate us all. Help those in need and maybe someone will lend you a hand in your hour of need.
    Shak, UK

    I live in relative security in Ireland, and while I'm not particularly rich, I am still better off than many others on this planet. While I am rather proud that some of the heavy taxes I pay are used to help the many people in need that arrive here every day, nothing is more frustrating than seeing on television the millions who need help, and for whom asylum would be not just a boon, but perhaps life-saving, and then seeing the meagre resources that we have set aside to help such refugees being squandered on bogus claims.

    Large amounts of cash and time is as a result being spent on rooting out bogus claims, while bona fide refugees are at the least being tarred with the same brush, and at worst having their place taken in the host country by an impostor... therefore leaving them in their misery. I would like to see far better organisation and faster handling of cases would immensely benefit bona fide refugees, and also improve the reputation of "the refugee".
    Michael Gahan, Ireland

    The fact is that Britain is an attractive place to come. We are a mostly peaceful, reasonably affluent, usually tolerant, and acceptably democratic nation. We should not descend to the level of many other countries by maltreating people who've got enough sense to leave defective societies that they endure merely by accident of birth. Britain is a better place because we've stolen bits of other people's culture. Democracy is Greek, law is mostly Roman, our music is either African or Italian in origin, our favourite food is curry, yet chips are from America. English itself is hybrid between various European languages, with bits of Hindi thrown in. This makes us stronger, not weaker, since we do not limit our reach to the shores of our islands.
    Domini Connor, UK

    If the western countries particularly Europe wish to maintain their culture by limiting immigration of any sort - this I can understand for reasons of self-preservation. The best way to reduce this influx of migrants is to assist in developing African and countries with large numbers of immigrants - this will provide opportunities in those countries and create an outlet not available due to the conflicts and moronic leadership present in most African countries. Sadly the despotic leaders are FULLY supported an encouraged by the western governments for selfish purposes - the result for the EU populace is the growing influx of "foreigners" to their shores.
    Yomi Adekanmbi, Michigan, USA

    The claim by Mohansingh, India, that these are "internal" matters of countries which ought to be "left alone" is pure sophistry. When the policies of any given country result in a flood of refugees across the border into other countries, any pretence of those policies being "internal" ceases to be credible. The countries which are forced, as a matter of decency, to host refugees fleeing these despotic regimes (which means allowing them to bypass immigration queues, feeding them and housing them) have a perfectly legitimate interest in the affairs of those regimes. When Third-World despots stop interfering in our affairs by driving undesirables (political opponents, for instance) to our shores, perhaps we'll cease to be concerned with their "internal" affairs.
    Tom, USA


    The refugee situation in the UK is no worse than any other country

    Imran, England
    I think the UK media and press make a big issue about refugees and asylum seekers that inevitably leads to racism and prejudice. The refugee situation in the UK is no worse than any other country. Pakistan gets the largest intake of refugees in the world. However our politicians are not on TV every day making an issue of it and the press have better and more worthwhile stories to report.
    Imran, England

    The company I work for employs a recruitment agency which supplies staff from all over Africa, Albania, India, Pakistan and Kurdistan. Many have claimed asylum and they work hard doing the hardest, most physical work which permanent employees and local British people won't do. Many are highly educated and skilled and with the current shortage of nurses, IT workers, doctors, teachers, police, unskilled workers etc, we should accept both asylum seekers and some economic migrants without them having to pay smugglers £10,000-£15,000 to reach here.
    Robin Basak, UK

    Asylum seekers should be immediately deported back to their countries of origin. I do not see why we should bear the burden of these people, all of whom use the excuse of persecution to scrounge off other societies. The tired excuse of colonisation does not wash either, as there is not one ex-colonial country which is now better off after independence.
    Nigel MacDonald, Sevilla

    I honestly believe Britain is one the most generous and advanced countries in the world as regards the treatment of refugees. But I have just read the comments of someone called MH, from Brighton and Hove, UK, complaining that, as a Briton, he never wanted a multicultural society - so why should he accept refugees in his country? Well, following this line of thought, he should start by cursing, first, his own ancestors, who interfered in other countries' affairs for centuries and built most of their wealth from colonialism. I guess they are to blame for the multiculturalism he hates.
    Aradhana, Lisbon, Portugal


    Why bother reviewing refugee rules when they are blatantly ignored anyway?

    Kevin, UK
    Why bother reviewing refugee rules when they are blatantly ignored anyway? We all know that so-called "asylum seekers" are flocking here from all over the world whilst by-passing the first safe haven they come to - which the UN states is where they should seek "asylum ". These people are economic refugees from backward poverty stricken countries and we do not want them here at all.
    Kevin, UK

    Refugees entering the UK should be well respected by the native British because they are often very entrepreneurial. This is a win-win situation for all, since refugee entrepreneurs create wealth and the natives get jobs.
    Raj Patel, UK

    I live on a council estate in east London. I see refugees getting new houses while we stay in rundown flats. We live below the standard of the average "refugee". It makes us all very angry.
    Marjorie Wood, London

    Those in countries with refugees should treat the incoming asylum seekers as fellow human beings not as unwelcome intruders. None of us know whether we will not ourselves be seeking refuge in another land someday.
    Leslie, Nairobi, Kenya

    Your comments during the programme

    If the western politicians, instead of indulging in the pious pontification on democracy and freedom, leave the other countries alone, they will, in course of time, learn to run their own political lives. By trying to impose compliant client regimes over others, the west is inhibiting the growth and development of democracy and is creating the refugee problems all over the world, which is then used as reason for further interference in the internal affairs of others.
    Mohansingh, India


    I am amazed that you can say that the refugees are a burden to their host countries

    Naima, Kenya
    Personally, I am amazed that you can say that the refugees are a burden to their host countries. Were the white people not the burden of the countries they colonised which they tried to plunder as much and as fast as possible so as to build up their economies? Is it not known that Britain, a very rich country has no known natural resources that would give it the wealth it holds now? I think the people in the Third World who live in these countries are only trying to get a little share of what their countrymen deserve.
    Naima, Kenya

    Having met many asylum seekers from countries mainly in Africa, I honestly believe all have left their various homelands because of civil war and persecution. I have failed to see the so-called 'economic migrants.' Many of these people have lost parents, children and other close relatives and have suffered tremendously. Although Britain is a crowded country there are still millions of empty homes throughout the country that can be put to good use in helping these people. The world is one place and mankind is its citizens so if the powerful nations pulled together we can achieve the ultimate goal of peace and harmony.
    N Y, Bradford, UK

    The majority who come to the developed countries claiming political asylum are now deemed bogus and it is right to return these individuals as soon as possible. But unless we tighten up on security at our seaports and airports then this action remains ineffective. Racism is now rife in the UK. Why? Because successive governments tell us that we now live in a multicultural society. But I never wanted my country to become multicultural. Why should I accept this? Why should any Briton?
    MH, Brighton & Hove, UK

    I fear that if the world was a fair place and wealth was spread evenly across the globe we'd all be poor. Probably half the population of the world has a "well founded fear of persecution". We may feel a certain moral discomfort being affluent and having a relatively civilised government but, if the world as a whole is to have the hope of progress, it's a job that somebody has to do.
    Malcolm McMahon, York, UK

    Your comments before we went ON AIR


    Genuine refugees can't afford to leave

    Mark, Jakarta, Indonesia
    Some of today's refugees have the money to pay smugglers, who grow rich on "human trafficking." If this money was spent in their own countries, they would be better off than being in the developed world. That's the sad reality of today's refugee problem. Genuine refugees can't afford to leave. Opportunitists blacken their name, and harden the hearts of people in developed countries.
    Mark, Jakarta, Indonesia

    The only area I feel that needs attention regarding immigration is the whole area of work and taxation. I am happy for refugees to be given safe sanctuary in Britain, but I firmly believe that they should only be allowed to remain here provided that they work and pay the same taxes we do. I am not in favour of giving them a free lunch on our hard-earned cash. All immigrants trying to enter the country illegally should not be given sanctuary on account of the fact that they cannot be trusted.
    Leon, Manchester, UK


    The main problem in the near future will not be the refugees but economic immigrants

    Dimitrios, Greece
    The main problem in the near future will not be the refugees but economic immigrants. EU must take a position on this issue as the current status of having people working, badly paid, and without civil rights, is a new kind of modern slavery. Immigrants, if accepted, then should have full civil rights as anyone else. Long term, if we do not take a wise decision fast, we will have to raise very tall walls to cage ourselves in.
    Dimitrios, Greece

    It is difficult to express an opinion on the refugee issue as others misinterpret what is being said. However, the British Isles are a group of small islands with ultimately limited resources. Already we have people here living in poverty. How much more can we be expected to support?
    Julian, England

    There is one thing that is worse than being a refugee in a foreign country - and that is being displaced in one's own, without a way out, without access to outside help, at the mercy of the perpetrators. For me life got better the moment I left my country and landed as a refugee in India. Thanks to all the countries, especially those developing countries, who made room for the refugees.
    S, US/South Africa/Sri Lanka


    To live for generations as cultural aliens is neither good for refugees nor for their hosts

    Tom, USA
    I think one of the central problems lies in our refusal to take direct action against these tyrannical regimes. I don't, by that, mean decades of economic strangulation and bombing of civilians as was done in Yugoslavia and Iraq, but full-scale invasion and replacement of the offending regimes (as we did in 1939-45). It's certainly right that refugees from despotic regimes should be given a safe haven in nearby countries, but it's then their moral duty to see to it that the rest of their countrymen are freed, and to ultimately either return home or adopt the culture of their chosen homeland. To live for generations as cultural aliens is neither good for them, nor for their hosts.
    Tom, USA

    The Geneva Convention is no more valid in the European Union now. It is obvious that the EU countries like Sweden have already abandoned the convention by promulgating an asylum law that opposes the convention. I remember what the Swedish prime minister said following his party's poor election results in the autumn of 1998. He said asylum rights should be reinstated not only in Sweden but also in the European Union (A crocodile tear from a person who oversaw the annulment of the convention). As long as countries do not follow the convention, it is better not to talk about it. The question of economic or bogus asylum claimers is just a cover to shy away from the commitment these countries have made. The convention is almost dead in the EU (fortress Europe).
    Chibo Zemunaye, Sweden, Stockholm


    I strongly believe that the issue of asylum has been and is still being abused

    David Yakubu, Nottingham, UK
    I strongly believe that the issue of asylum has been and is still being abused by many of those who seek asylum. While I believe that it is time to change the rules governing asylum, only genuine cases should be given consideration. Of particular reference are those who flee from war and disaster/political persecution where they are not in themselves a contributing factor to the situation they are fleeing from. This is because there are many asylum seekers who out of greed and bad intentions take part in creating problems in their home countries and when the situation becomes unbearable for them, they simply escape leaving the innocent ones to suffer. Some in fact are corrupt leaders/ government officials who have succeeded in destabilising their home economies due to bad leadership.

    In short, while I support a change in the rules governing asylum, I am of the strong view that only established genuine cases should be of consideration. I have never been a refugee, but I am almost certain that there are many out there who seek asylum whose positions/ situations may be better than mine back in their home countries.
    David Yakubu, Nottingham, UK

    I come to UK on May 1991. I was welcomed and given full assistance and advice. I have since then educated. I am now doing my Phd, thanks to the help I have been given. I am very grateful to the British government and people for the way in which they treat the refugees. I hope one day I will return the investment. Thanks.
    Hassan Mohamed, England, Somalia


    Not a night passes by without the thought of where we came from and what we left behind

    Kostadina, Macedonia
    Being a refugee is not easy. I left my home with my children in 1948 in the Greek civil war. We left all our property and memories back there and 50 years on we haven't been allowed back. We did settle in Macedonia as we are Macedonians. Life has been good but not a night passes by without the thought of where we came from and what we left behind. Maybe these days there is a human rights court and maybe they do help people like me. I've desperately tried to get in touch - but to this day there is no reply. I am 87 years old now and the time is running out, so do you really think there is any justice?
    Kostadina, Macedonia

    I am a student without a nationality, and this is because I was forced to leave my country when I most needed it. I was born and brought up in Prishtina, Kosova (Yugoslavia) and I have spent 14 years of my life there. Now I live in London without my parents and I try hard to adapt into the British society. When it comes to thanking the United Nations for the Geneva Convention on the refugees, I believe that an appreciation deserves to be expressed.
    Ard, London, UK

    It's sad to see these huge number of refugees suffer and the UN is doing nothing. These human beings need help. What's happening in Afghanistan refugee camps is horrible.
    Sausan, London


    We would like to contribute something back to the society if we are given the chance

    Hassan Caruus, Somali in UK
    I came to the UK in May 1991. The refugees today are suffering around the world, in England especially where they have been refused any sort of financial help until their case is heard. What the British government is forgetting is people come here to feel safe and do something for themselves. We would like to contribute something back to the society if we are given the chance.
    Hassan Caruus, Somali- living in the UK

    A refugee - a word I wish to forget, yet day after day I am reminded of who I really am. I came with my mother and sister to Canada in 1989 as immigrants under Canadian government sponsorship. Two years prior to our arrival, my dad came to Canada and was granted asylum, and in consideration of his family and the war that was killing us in the town of Jaffna in Sri Lanka, we were granted landed immigrant status before my father and we were welcomed to Canada. I thank Canada for that and I will "stand guard for thee", even though I was not officially a refugee at any time in my life, nor am I a true Canadian.

    As a university student, during my school year and out of my school year, I am only looked upon as a Sri Lankan Tamil, never as Canadian. Don't get me wrong, I am proud of my background, but considering we officially don't have a homeland and I have been a Canadian citizen most of my life, I wish just one day Canadians would forget that I and other immigrants/refugees are "foreigners" and see us just as CANADIANS.
    Thulasi, North York, Canada


    I don't know when I will get the chance back to live with my people

    Mani, Sri Lanka
    I am a Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka. Because of the Sri Lankan Government's continuous chauvinistic mentality, we were forced to evacuate our beloved homeland. Now I am living alone with deep depression. Rest of my family are living at home. I don't know when I will get the chance back to live with my people. There were two countries in the Paradise Island when it was colonised. For the administration purpose, the coloniser fused the countries and when they left the island, gave total control of the island to the majority. It was the only mistake enough to push Tamils in a dangerous life. Now I am longing, as rest of the diaspora's Tamils, for the D-Day which will give us a peaceful life in our homeland.
    Mani, Sri Lanka

    When I came here to Italy 19 years ago, there were no possibilities to ask asylum for Sri Lankans. Anyhow I passed my first five years as a clandestine immigrant with a lot of difficulties and then fortunately I got my work permit and now I am living as a legal immigrant. But it is very, very difficult for me to forget about my past. I am living here with my wife and my two kids. I am coming from a completely different mentality, culture, religion, costume, way of living and many other things and if I like or not, obligated to accept certain things of this Italian society.

    I never wanted to leave my home or country for any reason. As a brilliant student I wanted to be a professional, but months before entering the university I had to interrupt my studies for the political situation and after 4 years I left my country, sadly. It was only for survival reasons. After that I never saw my home. Even though I went several times to Sri Lanka, I couldn't go to my home where I was born and grew up, for war situation. It is very sad to think how many more years I must wait to see my home? My home, my school, my temple, my little playground, my relations, and everything I remember of my 21 years' life. It's not very easy to forget about those things.
    Thilepan, Napoli, Italy


    The rules need to be amended to allow people to flow freely

    Suresh K, The Netherlands
    To bring another angle to your question, as globalisation of goods occurs so too will migration of people, both economic and political. Thus the rules need to be amended to allow people to flow freely.
    Suresh K, Amstelveen, The Netherlands

    The distinction between political refugees and economic migrants is ultimately artificial. Do people fleeing persecution have a right to political asylum, but those fleeing starvation and deprivation do not? Considering that the entire American and Australasian continents are peopled by past economic migrants from Europe I hardly think Europeans and Americans have a right to moralise about which asylum seekers are false and which genuine.
    Anders Dybwad, Norway


    The West should stop lending money and selling arms to rogue governments

    A Isahac, New York, USA
    After all that has been said and done, I wonder if the hosts of the rich western countries really understand what it means to be detached from one's roots. Would a person who eats three meals a day know hunger? What the West says to us is: "You should be grateful you are here. This is the best place in the world etc" and if we dare open our mouth to explain what it is that we miss or lack, the answer is: "Well, why don't you go back where you came from"? So what is the use of pouring one's heart out to those who would add alcohol to your open wounds?

    I think the host countries should bring together all new refugees, and let them pour their hearts out to each other instead of spreading them out all over the country - just to revive their broken spirits. Then, too, I think the West should stop lending money and selling arms to rogue governments. With one hand helping the oppressor, and with the other cleaning up his mess, does not make sense. There is more to why refugees are increasing than meets the eye.
    A Isahac, New York, USA

    I am not a refugee and neither were my parents who came to England from Nigeria in the early seventies. Nowadays, however, some people would call them "economic migrants". Yes, they came here to earn money and for a better life. Not only have they attained these things, they have also put myself and my sister through private education from the ages of 3 to 18, earn well above the national average, pay huge taxes, hardly ever use NHS facilities and have never been on state benefits. In other words, these "economic migrants" (my parents) have come to this country and contributed probably a lot more financially than they have ever got back or ever will.

    So, refugees, immigrants, economic migrants - whatever term you choose to use - are not simply here to scrounge off the State and abuse the system, as we are so often told by politicians and the media. As humans, we all have so much to contribute to society - whether that is ours or someone else's.
    Lola A, London, UK

    I am 18 years old. I am originally from Afghanistan. I have lived as a refugee in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Canada. But I have my worst memories in Pakistan and India. As an Afghan, living in these countries is as hard as it being a Palestinian in Israel or an Albanian in northern Kosovo at the time of Milosevic.

    Canada has been better than these two countries in many ways. I feel like Canada has accepted me with wide arms open. Though still I am not treated alike a Canadian (racism exists) but I am not mistreated either (as I was in India and Pakistan). As they say, "You can take away a man from his country, but not his heart".
    Edres, Toronto, Canada

    My parents were among the first group of families ousted from their homes in what is now a totally Jewish neighbourhood in Jerusalem. I was too young to grasp what was meant by the words exchanged between my parents and the military officials that came to evict them. It was many years later that I understood the consequences. I do recall living in small square rooms that had hard dirt floors. One thing though will never leave me is my father's tears.

    As life goes on and as people from that time tended to have strong survival instincts, we somehow managed to leave the refugee camps and immigrate to one of many countries in south and Central America. It took my parents ten years to finally arrive here in the USA. One thing that is clear in my mind is this: Refugees are created when the strong take advantage of the weak. My father often told me stories of how Palestinians and Jews were once good neighbours and even traded in goods and property. It seems to me that this part of the Middle East is in this situation today because the strong overtook the weak, a situation that continues today. So as refugees are created by the strong, theses same countries are taking in the refugees they have created.
    N. Issa, California, USA


    It is very hard to be a refugee but being a refugee in your own town is harder than anything else

    Violeta, Mitrovicė, Kosova
    I'm from Kosova, a town called Mitrovica. Mitrovica is a town separated in two parts - north Serb part and south Albanian part. I am Albanian and during the war I was refugee with my two children, I will never forget the day when we left our town. Our children (that time my twins were 20 months old) were crying and they were asking a lot of questions like "Mammy, can we take our home with us and the garden?" The NATO bombing was over and when I came back I had nowhere to go. My house was destroyed and as it is in the north part of the town, although I have the money to rebuild it, I can't go there because it's occupied. Every day we have people killed and beaten. The war is finished officially for two years now but in these two years 33 Albanians are killed in the north part of Mitrovica town. It is very hard to be a refugee but being a refugee in your own town is harder than anything else - especially when from the south part I can see my house in the north and I cannot go there.
    Violeta, Mitrovicė, Kosova

    I am a refugee from Afghanistan. Perhaps you know what is there that makes Afghanistan, economically, one of the poorest countries. But its migration status is one of the highest in the world. And I believe I will be a refugee until I return to where I belong. The people, here in the USA, are great. And there is a vast job opportunity for every refugee (but all the jobs that the refugees are hired for are low paid jobs), and I think that is one of the reasons the USA is accepting a limited number of refugees, which they have to approve to enter to the US. The refugees will do the jobs Americans don't want to do.

    The only way you can solve a problem is to go to the main root of where the problem has emerged. Why would "the world" want more refugees, when they can eliminate the reasons, these refugees migrate for? If it is a Somalian, who has fled because of a civil war, stop the war. There will be less refugees migrating from Somalia. If an Afghan woman, like me, is fleeing the country, because of the Taliban's strict military actions over women, which are taking away my rights to go to school, speak freely, work, and have fun, GIVE those rights to an Afghan woman, so they stop migrating to your country. I never wanted to leave my country, but I am forced to leave my homeland. You won't understand the pain until you go through that pain.
    Najma Leila, NY, USA

    I see that the country that got most praises on this board is Canada. While one has to admit that Canada is quick at recruiting more people to its territory in order to increase its mere 30 million, it fails to help them adapt to the country. When refugees are brought to Canada, while they are given federal assistance for a few years - enough to pay rent and buy food and clothing; more than what welfare recipients get - they are not provided with any kind of employment help. Most of them (despite their previous educational achievements) are placed in Adult High Schools and told to take a few English courses, maybe a very basic computer course, and that's about it.

    I think that the government in Canada should allow refugees to remain on social assistance for a limited 6 months and at the same time work actively with them at finding them job placements. A good way for the government to achieve this is to allow a $1,000 or $2,000 advance for the employer who hires and keeps a refugee employee for a six month period. As a Chinese proverb says: "If you want to help someone, you teach them how to fish, and not just hand them over the fish". It's great that Canada is willing to spend a great deal of money for its refugees - however, I know that most of them would rather not have to rely on social assistance.
    Dragan, Ontario, Canada


    The host countries should keep the doors open for genuine refugees

    Michael Ablelom, College Station, TX
    The host countries should keep the doors open for genuine refugees. I came to the US through Greece and Italy. It is amazing how they treat the refugees from Africa. The refugees from Poland and Eastern Europe were processed to US and Canada in a few weeks but the refugees from Africa had to wait almost two years. I ask why? Again the skin colour!
    Michael Ablelom, College Station, TX

    I was already living in the US when I became a refugee following the genocidal war that ravaged my homeland of Rwanda. Even if no one in this great country has ever pointed out to me that I was somehow unwelcome, or the fact that I haven't experienced any racism, I still cry over my homeland, my home life, my genuine ways of expression that have been truncated. I can function normally, yes, but in a "flat key" so to speak. This is a prosperous land, but your land is always your own home.
    Norbert Mudaheranwa, Tulare, USA

    I am from Somalia and I fled my country when I was only 5 years old. My father was from a small clan and my mother from a strong clan so the harsh dictator was looking for him and wanted to kill him. We fled to Ethiopia and then to Egypt and from there to Pakistan, where we at last were granted a refugee status by the USA. I thank America and Europe for helping me, my family and other peoples around the world. I hope they keep on helping the refugees from the world till the day comes when there will be no more.
    Hassan Yusuf, Fort Worth, Texas, USA


    I cried, as just to say to myself, I am no one, no one wants me

    Samad, UK
    I was 7 years old when I left Afghanistan with my family for Pakistan. I was there for the next twelve years of my life. Never being part of that society and not even able to go back to my homeland, I came to London, like a lost person who is looking for his own self. I have never been able to have my own passport. I do remember May 1997, election day in UK. I was watching TV till 4am, knowing no one, but I was looking at the results and I cried, as just to say to myself, I am no one, no one wants me. What a life for a refugee. Welcome him/her or don't, but a refugee is someone who is no one.
    Samad, UK

    How ironic that during the middle ages Europe was seeking Asia and Africa so that European life could be better. Now the tides have reversed and Africans and Asians are seeking the West in a bid for a better life. The reason? The pride that one feels when in charge of one's own household has been broken by colonialism and now by corporate expansion. The UN? Hardly. What people in the poor countries need are pride and to be in charge of their lands and resources.
    Vik, Omaha, Nebraska, USA


    I want to thank Canada for being willing to help the desperate and hopeless

    YK, Edmonton, Canada
    I am refugee from Turkey. The reason was that I was a conscientious objector against compulsory military service. They do not respect the principles I believe, and if I go to Turkey today I will end up in jail. I want to thank Canada for being willing to help the desperate and hopeless and giving a new life. I wish none of us had to leave our homeland. Thanks, Canada, and I hope Europe will be more open for the REAL refugees.
    YK, Edmonton, Canada

    I think, there should be a new way of thinking when it comes to refugees. I suggest the following: 1 Rich and democratic countries should direct their energies to create stability and tranquillity in troubled countries. 2 Refugees are an asset to their homeland if they can find peace and stability. So, the developed nations must address this critical issue. 3 Democracy and good governance in troubled countries could reverse the outflow of productive citizens.
    Gabriel Lemma, Washington, DC, USA

    It's high time Britain started regarding refugees as a potentially valuable resource, rather than an economic and social burden. I deal with many asylum seekers in my professional work and the vast majority are eager, even desperate, to integrate into British society and make a positive contribution. Immigration is nothing new and British history provides many examples. Perhaps if more people actually researched their own family backgrounds far enough, they might be surprised to discover just how mixed a nation we really are.
    Alex Standish, London, UK


    I feel like a log in a big ocean

    Nardos Fassika, San Diego, USA
    Who am I? Where do I belong? My life as a former refugee is a daily balancing act. I feel like a log in a big ocean, so out of place. But I do realize that life does go on. So I try to adapt to my new country but still dream about my homeland. I live here but my heart longs for my country. What a heartbreak !
    Nardos Fassika, San Diego, USA

    I feel very sorry for the refugees and can't begin to imagine what they go through. Thus as a qualified experienced English teacher I made about 10+ phone calls to various refugee agencies offering my skills free to people who may need them.

    I got no calls back so I think someone should look at the agencies so called trying to "help" people. Surely wider community involvement would ease this atmosphere of distrust. I can't change the past but I could help assimilation and language skills are imperative to that. So what are the organisations doing to bridge this? Nothing in my experience.
    June Arber, England

    I think that most European countries overcame hard times in the past by migrating to other parts of the world. Luckily for them, those other parts of the world did not have immigration laws then. Nevertheless, when the poor Africans are looking for some life saving shelter when their habitats get inhabitable for various reasons, these European countries respond by issuing tough immigration laws. This is really ungrateful.

    I don't think that any mentally sound person would wish to migrate from his home and live in an alien environment, especially where he is being looked down upon, like is the case with most refugees today. People leave their beloved family and cultures and migrate to the unknown only when conditions become unbearable.
    Elsabeth Menelik, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


    We are so similar is so many more ways

    Rahul, London, UK
    When one thinks of the phrase "bogus asylum seekers" one thinks of immigrants. Thus when we hear that this country is being flooded by "bogus asylum seekers" the majority of people automatically think of all immigrants as damaging British society. The emphasis on there being a difference between communities heightens already simmering racial tensions. The fact is our different communities are different in ways. But we are so similar is so many more ways. The Far Right exploit our differences but never seem to show where we are similar.
    Rahul, London, UK

    A refugee - a word I wish to forget, yet day after day I am reminded of who I really am. I came with my mother and sister to Canada in 1989 as immigrant under the Canadian government's sponsorship. Two years after our arrival my dad came to Canada and was granted asylum.

    I thank Canada for that and I will "STAND ON GUARD FOR THEE" Even though I was not officially a refugee at anytime in my life, nor I am a true Canadian. As a present university student, during my school year and out of my school year, I am only looked upon as a Sri Lankan Tamil never as Canadian. Don't get me wrong I am proud of my background as a Sri Lankan Tamil but considering we officially don't have a homeland and I have been a Canadian citizen for the most part of life. I wish just one day Canadians forget that I (and other immigrants/refugees) are "foreigners" and see us just as Canadians.
    Thulasi, North York, Canada

    I am a student without a nationality, and this is because I was forced to leave my country when I most needed it. I was born and brought up in Prishtina, Kosova, (Yugoslavia) and I have spent 14 years of my life there. Now I live in London without my parents and I try hard to adapt into the British society. When it comes to thanking the United Nations for the Geneva Convention on the refugees, I believe that appreciation deserves to be expressed.
    Ard, London, UK

    When I came here in Italy 19 years ago there were no possibilities to seek asylum for Sri Lankans. I passed my first five years as a clandestine immigrant with a lot of difficulties and then fortunately I've got my work permit and now I am living as a legal immigrant. But it is very very difficult for me to forget about my past. I am living here with my wife and my two male kids, the first one is on 9 years and the second one is on 5 years. I come from a completely different mentality, culture, religion, costume, way of living and many other things and if I like it or not, I am obligated to accept certain things of this Italian society.

    It is very sad to think of the many years I must wait more to see my home, my school, my temple, my little playground, my relations, and everything I remember of my 21 year life. While I am suffering for my past, the real difficulty I am finding now is, growing and integrating my children into this society. It is not so easy duty. I must help them to not forget about their roots, their origin, their language and their story. But in this society I and my family, like many other immigrants have got a lot of problems only for our skin colour. So what will happen for our children in the future?
    Thilepan, Napoli, Italy

    Its very interesting to note how difficult it is today to seek refuge in the US or UK, particularly when you are coming from the so-called Third World. And yet the abundant natural resources in the so-called Third World, plundered during the colonial era made what Britain is today. The slaves from West Africa have a larger percentage in what is the US today. I do not put the blame entirely on the current regimes of Blair in the UK and Bush in the US. But surely, on behalf of their ancestors, the UK and the US have a moral obligation to help asylum seekers.
    Chibamba Douty, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei


    It is guaranteed to make the life of refugees so miserable

    Izat, London - UK
    I came to the UK fleeing one of the worst African dictatorships in 1993. In my country I was a member of an ethnic minority that is treated as second class citizens, ironically, in the UK I found myself a second class refugee! The Home Office's immigration department is the only UK institution that is modelled on the worst bureaucratic Third World organisation you could imagine. It is guaranteed to make the life of refugees so miserable and sad with its endless delays and chaos.

    My experience as a refugee in the UK has been a mix of coping with the loss of almost everything in my life, rebuilding a new life without forgetting the homeland and dealing with a racist hostile immigration system that doesn't value human life. But the positive side of my refugee experience is that I became more open-minded and more appreciative of tolerance and understanding. Also, having experienced the worst in life, which is exile, has made me a survivor!
    Izat, London - UK

    My wife and I are refugees from Northern Sri Lanka. We've been granted refugee status in New Zealand recently. Being a small country, New Zealand's commitment to refugee's cause should be appreciated and applauded by every one concerned. I'd say the treatment of refugees in New Zealand is the best. Our heartfelt thanks goes to the staff of the refugees status branch of the New Zealand Immigration Services here in Auckland. Well done New Zealand.
    P & T, Auckland, New Zealand

    People have become refugees not by choice but by circumstances beyond their control in their homeland. The UN and other powerful countries should work very hard to bring corrupt and evil leaders to justice. Then we will have a better. Bring the criminal leaders to am international court as it was done after the Second World War. BTW, I am an Ethiopian who came to the U.S. during the rotten regime of Mengistu Hailemariam. I thank the US for opening its door for refugees. Lots of lives have been saved!
    Samson W, Hillsborough, USA

    I came to the UK from Sri Lanka in 1991. Compared to Australia, Canada and USA the UK is a small overcrowded country and some refugees have faced problems. I count myself fortunate as my experiences here have been good. I do believe that there is little difference between a political prisoner who was tortured and an economic refugee who was starving.
    Suresh, Britain


    The British government has a moral obligation to political asylum seekers

    Sasi Sellathurai, Waterloo, Canada
    During the Cold War period, the West accepted economic migrants from socialist countries in the form of political asylum seekers or refugees just to show to the rest of the world that democracy and capitalism is better than socialism. Since the fall of socialist republics, the West is thinking of new stringent immigrant policies.

    Further, the current ethnic conflicts in former British colonial countries are the by-products of the strategy called "divide and conquer" introduced by the colonial rulers. British rulers indirectly promoted communal violence via disturbing inter-communal harmony during their colonial era to prevent from potential upsurges against them.

    Thus the British government and people have moral obligation to political asylum seekers.
    Sasi Sellathurai, Waterloo, Canada

    I have to be considered a refugee because of the fact that I fled Sri Lanka for the security of my family and myself. I was subject to harassment purely because of my ethnicity. I did not come here for economic reasons as I was doing very well economically in Sri Lanka. Australia has been so good to us and I have absolutely no regrets coming here. I am shocked by the comments of some refugees who come here and want things handed to them without any effort on their part.

    These are the very people who are a burden to the society and hence help the government be strict with their migration programs. I am an Australian citizen now and I will strive to work towards contributing in some little way to the development of my adopted country. It is sad that a whole lot of people cannot make it here but there have to be stringent rules in place to grant entry so as to not allow the wrong people to enter here. Thanks Australia, you gave us hope and freedom!!
    Barry Sinniah, Sydney ,Australia

  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    Ruud Lubbers
    explains the reasons for refugees...
    Benjamin Feneah, Ghana
    "There are thousands of Liberians living in Ghana who are not registered"
    Evelyn, Netherlands
    "The western world has a lot of responsibilty in this"
    Mahendra Ghalani
    "How come the UN is not arguing with the countries that are selling the arms?
    Robert Igini
    "How can they keep African refugees like rats?
    Zrinko Bralo, London
    "I think the Geneva Convention needs updating"
    Paul Kumar, UK
    "Shouldn't sanctions be imposed on those countries that cause the problems?"
    Andreas Feldman, Chile
    "How is the UNHCR going to confront the challenge posed by the increasing number of Internally Displaced Persons?"

    Persecution

    The journey

    Life in a foreign land

    The way ahead

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