UN agency attacks Britain for 'vilifying' refugees

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The Independent Online

Britain's international reputation for good race relations suffered another damaging blow on Friday when the United Nations refugee agency denounced a "climate of vilification" in the country which it blamed for recent attacks on asylum-seekers.

The Swiss-based UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) claimed that sections of the British media and irresponsible politicians bore some responsibility for the attacks.

Firsat Yildiz, a Turkish Kurd asylum-seeker, was murdered last Sunday on the Sighthill estate in Glasgow and an Iranian asylum-seeker was stabbed last Tuesday on the same estate. A Kurdish asylum-seeker was stabbed in the throat in Hull on Tuesday.

A UNHCR spokesman, Kris Janowski, told a news briefing in Geneva: "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 fears of immigrants during Britain's general election campaign last June. "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," he said. "We trust the authorities will do everything they can to remedy the situation."

Milena Buyum, of the National Assembly Against Racism, said the UNHCR's comments showed that the attacks on asylum-seekers, which follow a summer of race rioting, were "definitely damaging" Britain's international reputation.