U.N. Refugee Official Criticises 'Bewildering' European Response To Crisis

Europe's Response To Migrant Crisis Attacked
Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, described Europe's response to the crisis as "bewildering" Henry Romero/Reuters

A senior U.N. official has criticized Europe's response to the migrant crisis, comparing the language used by some political leaders with that deployed in the run-up to World War II, rhetoric that indirectly paved the way for the Holocaust.

Speaking at the United Nations Association of the U.K., Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, described Europe's response to the crisis as "bewildering," according to The Guardian.

He criticized the use of terms such as "swarms of refugees." He did not mention specific politicians who used the phrase but the word "swarms" was used in July by British Prime Minister David Cameron to refer to asylum seekers in Europe.

In an interview with The Guardian, the High Commissioner also likened the current situation in Europe to the Evian Conference of 1938, when the U.S., U.K., and Australia refused to accept large numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler's Germany, for fear they might destabilize their societies.

"If you just look back to the Evian conference and read through the intergovernmental discussion, you will see that there were things that were said that were very similar," Al Hussein was quoted as saying.

"Indeed, at the time, the Australian delegate said that if Australia accepted large numbers of European Jews they'd be importing Europe's racial problem into Australia," he added. "I'm sure that in later years, he regretted that he ever said this, knowing what happened subsequently, but this is precisely the point. If we cannot forecast the future, at least we have the past as a guide that should wisen us, alert us to the dangers of using that rhetoric."

Earlier this month, British Home Secretary Theresa May addressed the Conservative Party conference and said that high levels of migration made a "cohesive society" in the U.K. impossible.

In response to May's comments, Hussein said: "Closer examination of history and a closer examination of what happened in Europe in the early part of the 20th century should make people think very carefully about what it is that they're saying. These are human beings. Even in the use of the word migrants, somehow it's as if they don't have rights. They all have rights just as we have rights."

According to The Guardian, Hussein also said that the U.K. government's proposal to scrap the Human Rights Act would send "a very negative signal." The Conservatives will announce plans for a British bill of rights this autumn that will effectively make judgments from the EU advisory rather than binding. "One mustn't forget the United Kingdom has a privileged status in the UN security council," he said.

However, his comments were attacked by Dominic Raab, a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Minister for Human Rights, at the Ministry of Justice, who said it was irresponsible to criticise U.K. government plans that had not yet been announced.