Refugee reports lead to 'fear and hostility'

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has expressed “grave concern” over UK tabloid newspaper coverage of refugee and asylum issues.

The agency welcomed last week’s guidance note from the Press Complaints Commission, which asked editors not to use the term “illegal asylum seeker”.

 But the UNHCR was concerned that “the tabloid press would continue to publish inaccurate and misleading stories which are a danger to good community relations”.
The agency claimed reporting of asylum seekers had created an “atmosphere of fear and hostility in recent years”.

A spokesman for UNHCR said: “Hostile and alarmist media coverage of asylum and refugees undermines the lives of those who have had to flee persecution, usually from countries where there is no free press, rather than inform any legitimate public debate on these issues.”

The UNHCR claimed the UK press had given “prominence to outlandish and scaremongering claims from fringe groups and individuals”. It also said there had been an “unwarranted association of asylum seekers with issues such as crime and disease”.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “I don’t think any mainstream paper that I know of is critical of the principle that genuine refugees should be allowed to come to this country.

“That’s not the issue. The issue is how the Government deals with an influx of people – some of whom may or may not be genuine refugees and asylum seekers.

“Newspapers have a right to question and criticise government policy. But at the same time editors and journalists should be careful with the language they use.”

The UNHCR is working with the NUJ and the PressWise Trust to produce a guidance leaflet on media coverage of asylum seekers.

The leaflet will be published later this year.

By Dominic Ponsford

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