As this year’s World Refugee Day approaches, Reporters Without Borders calls on the international community to adopt specific measures to protect journalists who are forced to flee their country because they have been attacked or threatened in the course of their work.
Since the start of 2007, Reporters Without Borders has helped 140 journalists, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, who were forced to abandon their work and their families to go into exile. Some found temporary shelter in a neighbouring country where they are awaiting international protection, others sought asylum in Europe, Canada or the United States.
"We are extremely disturbed to see reprisals by governments and by criminal, religious and political groups having their way with so many journalists," the press freedom organisation said. "Countries such as Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and Sri Lanka are being emptied of their journalists, seen by their governments as annoying witnesses who are best removed.
"Most of them leave their country hastily and in dangerous circumstances, travelling by night and often crossing the border on foot or hidden in a vehicle. They usually seek refuge in neighbouring countries in the often illusory hope of being safe from persecution there."
Reporters Without Borders feels that World Refugee Day should offer an opportunity for these uprooted men and women to speak again. The oppressors will have won if exile reduces these journalists to silence. For this reason, journalists who have sought refuge in Europe are being given a chance to meet and talk to the media at our Paris headquarters on 20 June.
These exiled journalists will take part in the meeting:
Than Win Htut (Burma)
Massoud Hamid (Syria)
Jesus Zuñiga (Cuba)
Lucie Umukundwa (Rwanda)
Ahmed Al Allef (Iraq)
Merid Estifanos (Ethiopia)
Reporters Without Borders added: "The long waits at the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the almost systematic refusal by western embassies to give them visas force most of these journalists to risk their lives and use illegal immigration rings. It is vital that western governments and the UNHCR implement protected entry procedures and urgent resettlement programmes.
"For those who reach Europe, the welcome varies enormously from country to country. It is better in countries such as Sweden and France, thanks to adequate reception provisions including the Maison des Journalistes in Paris. But other countries do not offer the same kind of accommodation and legal support."
The press freedom organisation has asked the French government, when it takes over the European Union’s rotating presidency next month, to promote the adoption of an EU asylum policy with specific provisions for those who have defended freedom of expression.
An Eritrean refugee journalist in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum spoke to us of his despair. "I have been hiding in Khartoum for several months and I have rented a room because there is less chance of being kidnapped by the Eritrean security forces who are here," he said. "But I have no money and eating three times a day has become a luxury. In Eritrea I escaped from prison and from the government’s wrath but I had never been short of money. Now I feel trapped, far from home and facing unprecedented problems."
An Iranian journalist isolated in Turkey also shared his woes with us. "I have been waiting with two children for more than 23 months for a decision that will allow me to leave Turkey," he said. "I have not been able to do anything during this time, neither my work nor my duty towards my family. There were times when I wanted to surrender to my torturers because at least I did not have such a bad conscience while in prison."