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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
UN condemns asylum seeker attacks
UNHCR graphic
The UNHCR has condemned attacks on asylum seekers
An international humanitarian agency has blamed British politicians and newspapers for whipping up a "climate of vilification" against asylum seekers.

A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said "twisted and negative stories" about asylum seekers were inflaming racial tensions across the UK.

The relief agency's comments come as more asylum seekers fled the Sighthill area of Glasgow on Friday after a week of violence, fear and recrimination.

Three Kurdish men and five other families have travelled south in the past two days despite reassurances from the city council that it is doing all it can to stamp out racial harassment

Kris Janowski
Kris Janowski: "Climate of vilification"
UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski blamed irresponsible reporting and political comments for the current racial tensions in Britain.

He said: "Three such attacks in the space of just three days are indeed very alarming, but in UNHCR's view this was sadly predictable given the climate of vilification of asylum seekers that has taken hold in the UK in recent years.

"Some mass circulation newspapers and some politicians continually portray asylum-seekers as a problem, statistics are being twisted and negative stories are being endlessly highlighted."

Mr Janowski said that some politicians had tried to exploit racial tensions during the recent general election campaign.

'Age-old prejudice'

He added: "Our concern is not the current government's policies, it is more the atmosphere surrounding asylum-seekers in mass circulation papers and rhetoric used in the campaign.

"We trust the authorities will do everything they can to remedy the situation."

Mr Janowski's comments echo sentiments from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers.

Ruud Lubbers
Ruud Lubbers: "Perfect target"
The former Dutch prime minister, who became commissioner in January, recently wrote: "Asylum seekers make a perfect target for people who want to invoke the age-old prejudice against foreigners.

"'Illegal', 'bogus', 'flood', 'fraudulent', 'criminal', 'scrounger', 'trafficking' - all the words commonly paired with the term asylum seeker.

"Such words drip in to the public consciousness until they become self-fulfilling."

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has also condemned attacks on asylum seekers.

The Right Reverend John Miller said that he was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Kurdish refugee, Firsat Yildiz, in Glasgow at the weekend.

'Dreadful event'

He said: "The vast majority of people in Scotland understand that asylum seekers are forced to flee their own countries to escape cruelty and persecution, and open their hearts to them.

"No Scot can hear of this dreadful event without a sense of shame. In this country, and especially in city areas of deep economic difficulty, young men are the section of society most at risk of violent injury.

"But to think that a young man who came to Scotland seeking safety has had his life taken from him like this is a tragedy of the deepest kind.

Davoud Rasul Naseri
Davoud Rasul Naseri was stabbed on Tuesday
Frustration among some local residents about asylum seekers being housed in Sighthill has been simmering for several months.

But it finally boiled over on Monday when news broke that 22-year-old Mr Yildiz had been stabbed to death the night before.

This prompted hundreds of asylum seekers to take part in a protest march to the city council headquarters in George Square and demand action.

On Monday night, dozens of local residents, mostly youths, held a counter demonstration in Sighthill to highlight what they claim is favouritism towards asylum seekers and refugees.

Ministerial action

The situation was further inflamed on Wednesday when it emerged that a Kurdish man was stabbed by a gang of white youths in Hull and an Iranian asylum seeker was stabbed in Glasgow.

Davoud Rasul Naseri, 22, was injured during the attack on Tuesday night when he took out rubbish from his flat in Sighthill.

He later told journalists that he no longer felt safe in Glasgow and that he hated the city and its people.

Malcolm Chisholm
Malcolm Chisholm: "Integration forum"
Scottish ministers stepped into the row on Wednesday when Scotland Office Minister George Foulkes confirmed that no more asylum seekers would be sent to Sighthill in the foreseeable future.

On Wednesday, the Scottish Executive's Community Care Minister Malcolm Chisholm met the Asylum Seekers Consortium.

Although the meeting was arranged weeks before trouble flared in Sighthill, proposals for new help measures were pushed to the top of the agenda.

Mr Chisholm encouraged other councils to play a part in housing asylum seekers and said an "integration forum" would be set up to help the "sizeable numbers of asylum seekers" settle into Scottish life.

On Thursday, two council's responded to the minister's appeal.

'Racial harassment'

Fife Council offered 100 houses to asylum seekers and West Dunbartonshire Council confirmed that it had 50 homes available.

But the debate took another twist later that day when it emerged that five families of asylum seekers had fled to London citing "racial harassment" as their reason for leaving Sighthill.

The Refugee Council gave the families accommodation for one night before relaying Home Office advice that they should return to Glasgow.

The city council attempted to defuse asylum seekers' fears on Friday morning by giving further reassurances that it is doing all it can to stamp out racial harassment

The move came too late, however, for three Kurdish men who had already decided to flee the city and head for Dover.

Rupert Colville, UNHCR
"This created an overall climate that is very skewed now in the UK"
See also:

10 Aug 01 | Scotland
More asylum seekers flee city
09 Aug 01 | Scotland
Councils to ease refugee plight
09 Aug 01 | Scotland
Newspaper faces refugee protest
08 Aug 01 | Scotland
Refugee mediator to be appointed
08 Aug 01 | Scotland
Stabbed asylum seeker's anger
08 Aug 01 | Scotland
Ministers in asylum seekers pledge
07 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Refugee dispersal 'will continue'
05 Aug 01 | Scotland
Murder hunt for Turkish man's killer
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