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Some 22 million refugees need help around the world, but, as leaders deal with global terrorism, care must also be taken to eliminate a cause of terror - wanting, the United Nations' top refugee advocate advised told Old Dominion University graduates Saturday.

Ruud Lubbers, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, told approximately 2,700 graduates at Foreman Field for the university's 96th commencement that world leaders should avoid undue linkage between refugees and terrorists.

"Genuine refugees are themselves the victims of persecution and terrorism, not its perpetrators," he said. "Real refugees should not be victimized twice."

How the world deals with the millions of refugees displaced by war, famine and natural disasters amounts to a security issue as well as one of human rights, Lubbers said.

"How can we live in a world without terrorism if we do not address the critical need to ensure freedom from want?," Lubbers said. "Injustice, poverty, conflict, ignorance and disease - all of these contribute to instability. We cannot afford to turn our backs on peoples and places severely affected by any of these. On the contrary, we must make every effort to address the conditions that lead to despair and breed hatred and violence in the first place. Let us not underestimate the price of indifference."

Lubbers, the ninth U.N. high commissioner for refugees, also received an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

A former prime minister of the Netherlands, Lubbers began his appointment shortly after the U.N. commemorated the office's 50th anniversary in 2000 and took up the mission laid out by the U.N. General Assembly: to provide protection and assistance to refugees.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is one of the world's principal humanitarian agencies with a staff of more than 5,000 personnel worldwide who help an estimated 22.3 million people in more than 120 countries.

"Refugees are not on the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid. They can enrich our societies," Lubbers said. "I call on you to volunteer and for aid. I call on you to donate some of the revenues of your rich life to come. Respect refugees. Let my refugees become your refugees."

This article was posted on: May 11, 2002

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