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U.N. says "hatred" is helping fuel the worst refugee crisis ever

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United Nations — The United Nations issued a call Tuesday for developed nations to reverse "restrictive policies" on refugees and share more of the burden of sheltering the highest number of displaced people ever recorded.

"We cannot afford to abandon refugees to hopelessness, nor their hosts to bear the responsibility alone," U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told diplomats gathered in Geneva for the Global Refugee Forum.

"Throughout human history, people everywhere have provided shelter to strangers seeking refuge — bound to them by a sense of duty and humanity," Guterres said, noting that "more than 70 million people have been forced from their homes, including more than 25 million refugees" who have had to seek refuge outside their own countries.

An internally displaced Afghan family searches for saleable plastic and metals along a road in Herat, December 16, 2019. HOSHANG HASHIMI/Getty

The U.N. chief said those numbers represented the "highest levels of displacement on record," and he blamed an increase in armed conflict around the world, climate change and "levels of hatred" that he said "remain high."

Without mentioning any nation by name, Guterres said many governments around the world had closed their doors and were discriminating against refugees.

"In too many places in the world, instead of being welcomed and protected, refugees fleeing war and persecution are facing closed borders or restrictive policies," Melissa Fleming, the U.N.'s Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, told CBS News. "Yet refugees have the right to asylum under international law, and not just that, they have a right to rebuild their lives and thrive."

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Guterres used the bleak statistics in his speech as a call to arms: "Now more than ever, we need international cooperation and practical, effective responses."

He implored world leaders to embrace international refugee protection as they did in the aftermath of World War II, and he pushed an accord agreed to by U.N. members last year as the "blueprint" for how to do it.

In December 2018, the U.N. created the Global Compact on Refugees in a bid to establish a strong, universal and fair response to the crisis. Only the U.S. and Hungary voted against approval of the compact, so it was easily adopted.

"The reality is that this problem is one we all share," actor Ben Stiller, a Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), told CBS News in reaction to Guterres' speech. "Until the root causes of displacement are dealt with, people and governments must all work to share the burden of the countries directly affected by people seeking safety." 

Stiller reflected on Guterres' message as a call for a widespread change of heart: "Right now the rhetoric towards immigrants and refugees is stoking fear, when we need to embrace compassion."

Guterres himself ended his remarks on a note of optimism, saying: "Solidarity runs deep in the human character."

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