Refugees and terrorism: “No evidence of risk” – New report by UN expert on counter-terrorism
Refugees and terrorism
21 October 2016
NEW YORK (21 October 2016) – “Overly-restrictive migration policies introduced because of terrorism concerns are not justified and may in fact be damaging to state security,” today warned the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, at the UN General Assembly in New York.
Presenting a new report* on the impact of counter-terrorism measures on the human rights of migrants and refugees, Mr. Emmerson, showed that “while there is no evidence that migration leads to increased terrorist activity, migration policies that are restrictive or that violate human rights may in fact create conditions conducive to terrorism.”
“In the prevailing politicking around migration, we have seen a trend of anti-terror measures being linked to the management of cross-border flows,” he said. “This trend is based on the perception that terrorists take advantage of refugee flows to carry out acts of terrorism, or that refugees are somehow more prone to radicalization than others.”
“This perception is analytically and statistically unfounded, and must change,” the human rights expert stressed recalling that, in 2015, the total number of displaced people worldwide reached 65.3 million. “Even with ongoing attempts to reach resolution in the Syrian conflicts, we are likely to see a continued flow of refugees beyond the current record levels.”
The report finds that migration policies that build fences, engage in push-back operations, criminalize irregular migration and abandon international legal commitments to refugees, lead to restricted access to safe territory and increased covert movements of people, particularly by traffickers. “These conditions may ultimately assist terrorists and lead to increased terrorist activity.”
“What is clear is that policies that respect human rights, justice, and accountability, and that manifest the values on which democracy is founded, are an essential element of effective counterterrorism policies,” Mr. Emmerson noted. “The further we move away from this, the more we concede to terrorist groups.”
The expert’s study recommends that states recognise that the vast majority of people fleeing Syria and other affected regions are victims of terrorism, and should not be stigmatised as potential terrorists themselves. It also calls on states to respect the fundamental rights of migrants, and warns that push back operations and detention of migrants likely violate human rights and breach State obligations under international refugee law.
“We are here today to correct the misperception that international refugee law is an obstacle when it comes to addressing security concerns,” Mr. Emmerson said. “In fact, it is in all of our interests to protect refugees and give them the opportunity to create a better future for themselves and their families. It is also the right thing to do.”
Ben Emmerson (United Kingdom) is the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. On 1 August 2011, he took up his functions on the mandate that was created in 2005 by the former United Nations Commission on Human, renewed by the UN Human Rights Council for a three year period in December 2007, in September 2010 and again in March 2013. Learn more, log on to:
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.