November 16: International Day for Tolerance

By USCRI November 15, 2023

By: Rosalind Ghafar Rogers, PhD, LMHC, Clinical Behavioral Health Subject Matter Expert

with USCRI’s Refugee Health Services in Arlington, VA


Societies are more diverse than ever, but intolerance is growing around the globe. Our world is currently steeped in conflict, oppression, violence, and war, all of which inflict incalculable suffering on innocent people. Sectarian tensions are at the heart of many of these conflicts, with a rise in violent extremism and massive human rights violations. We are facing the largest crisis of forced displacement since World War II – 108.4 million or 1 in 6 people worldwide – and this has triggered a rise in xenophobia and hatred against migrants, refugees, and other minority groups (UNHCR, 2023).

“Tolerance is not passive. It demands an active choice to reach out on the basis of mutual understanding and respect, especially where disagreement exists. Tolerance means recognizing that our diversity is a strength – a wellspring of creativity and renewal for all societies.”


– Ban Ki-Moon, Eighth UN Secretary-General


According to Gallup’s Migrant Acceptance Index, the world has become less tolerant of migrants, refugees, and other minority groups than it was even three years ago (Esipova et al., 2020). In Europe, public opinion polls show a rising fear and aversion to Muslims, who are seen as a threat to national identity, social cohesion, and domestic security (Esipova et al., 2020). Research in Australia found that 22% of refugees and asylum-seekers experienced discrimination, with a higher rate of discrimination reported by those from the Middle East and Africa (Ziersch et al., 2020). Based on research from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL, 2023), in 2023, 38% of Muslims and 26% of Jewish people in the U.S. experienced harassment.


What is Intolerance?

Intolerance is very often rooted in ignorance and fear: fear of the unknown and fear of the other – other cultures, ethnicities, nations, languages, religions, and beliefs. It often leads to injustice and inequality and may lead to the dehumanization of a group of people. Intolerance has many forms, including prejudice, stereotypes, racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant sentiments, antisemitism, Islamophobia, sexism, or religious intolerance. Intolerance can manifest as discrimination, harassment, human rights violations, oppression, marginalization, segregation, scapegoating, hate-speech, hate-crimes, or violence.


What Contributes to Intolerance Against Migrants and Refugees?

Intolerance in a society is the sum-total of the intolerance of its individual members. Therefore, intolerance breeds intolerance. Factors that contribute to intolerance range from individual to governmental and institutional:


  • Lack of knowledge about and lack of contact and understanding between people from different racial,Artistic illustration of planet earth being hold by 6 hands with different skin color ethnic, national, cultural, and religious backgrounds.
  • Damaging narratives surrounding migration, forced displacement, and refugee issues, including the use of inflammatory, demonizing, and
  •  discriminatory language.
  • Public confusion about who migrants and refugees are and the nature of their experiences.
  • Rapid spread of hateful content online and on social media platforms that has dangerous societal effects by lowering the threshold of acceptance of racist and xenophobic rhetoric.
  • A general antipathy toward migration and a belief that migrants and refugees compete for scarce resources, threaten national security or the way of life of the host country, particularly those refugees whose facial features or cultural or religious practices distinguish them from the dominant culture (UNHCR, 2002). For example, skin tone and English-language proficiency have been found to influence discrimination, with darker skin tones and lower language proficiency among refugees being linked to higher levels of discrimination (Szaflarski & Bauldry, 2019).


How Does Intolerance Impact Migrants and Refugees?

Research has consistently shown that one of the major stressors that affect the health and successful integration of migrants and refugees is intolerance in the form of discrimination, racism, and xenophobia. Discrimination, along with other forms of social disadvantage, has negative effects on migrants’ and

refugees’ health and contributes to existing health disparities. At the societal level, discrimination operates through residential segregation and unequal access to safe housing, jobs, education, healthcare, and social services due to migrants’ and refugees’ foreign-born status, ethnic origin, or race. At the individual level, discrimination is an acute and chronic stressor that activates physiological responses, such as increased blood pressure, heart rate, and hormone production, that lead to poorer mental and physical health among refugees (Szaflarski & Bauldry, 2019).

Perceived discrimination has been associated with a wide range of health behaviors and outcomes, including obesity, hypertension, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and severe mental illness among migrants and refugees (Chen et al., 2017; Szaflarski & Bauldry, 2019). Discrimination has also been associated with less sense of belonging, lower levels of trust, reduced sense of control, and less hope, all of which negatively impact refugees’ successful integration and sense of safety in host countries (Ziersch et al., 2020). Over time, the dehumanizing effects of discrimination, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiments against migrants and refugees can lead to symptoms of trauma, alienation, and chronic stress.


How to Counter Intolerance?

Fighting intolerance requires developing and practicing tolerance and acceptance. According to UNESCO’s Declaration of Principles on Tolerance (1995), tolerance is “respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human.” Other aspects of tolerance include:

artistic Illustration of planet earth with cartoons for people from different races and ethnical backgrounds holding hands.

  • Tolerance is a virtue that makes peace possible. Tolerance is not only a desirable personal virtue, but also a democratic virtue necessary for a free and open society. Efforts to control prejudice and tolerate other groups is crucial to sustaining democratic norms.
  • Tolerance is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience, and belief. Education is the most effective way of preventing intolerance. Teaching people what their shared rights and freedoms are, so that they may be respected, is the first step (UNESCO, 1995).
  • Tolerance is an active practice of adhering to one’s convictions and accepting that others adhere to theirs. Tolerance is accepting the fact that human beings are naturally diverse and have a right to live in peace (UNESCO, 1995). Tolerance, as an active practice and is about how we behave when faced with difference, whether in identity, opinion, practice, or belief,
  • Tolerance is a responsibility to uphold human rights, pluralism, democracy, and the rule of law. State and local governments and communities play important roles in fostering welcoming and inclusive environments that respect and protect the human rights of all migrants and refugees and promote diversity and freedom from xenophobia, racism, and discrimination.
  • When we practice tolerance, we arrive at acceptance, and only after we have reached acceptance, do we have a chance of reaching understanding. One of the most effective ways to foster understanding is through direct interpersonal contact and dialogue between people and groups from different ethnic, religious, linguistic, and national backgrounds. When we take the time to meet others who are different from us, to hear their stories, and learn about their cultures, we strengthen our shared humanity.


In a world of increasing diversity, growing divisions, and escalating violence, intolerance is a global threat. As we observe the International Day for Tolerance, we must commit to cultivating tolerance, acceptance, and understanding in ourselves and others through our actions. We must commit to protecting and defending the most vulnerable among us and challenging ourselves and others to speak up when we witness intolerance or injustice. As we recognize this day, and practice every day, we must work collectively and in solidarity towards embracing our common humanity and promoting a culture of peace that our world so desperately needs.



ADL. (2023). Online Hate and Harassment: The American Experience 2023. Retrieved from https://www.adl.org/resources/report/online-hate-and-harassment-american-experience-2023

Chen W., Hall, B. J., Ling, L., & Renzaho, A. M. (2017). Pre-migration and post-migration factors associated with mental health in humanitarian migrants in Australia and the moderation effect of post-migration stressors: findings from the first wave data of the BNLA cohort study. The Lancet Psychiatry, 4(3), 218–229.

Esipova, N., Ray, J., & Pugliese, A. (2020). World grown less accepting of migrants. Gallup. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/320678/world-grows-less-accepting-migrants.aspx

Szaflarski, M. & Bauldry, S. (2019). The effects of perceived discrimination on immigrant and refugee physical and mental health. Advances in Medical Sociology, 19, 173-204. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1057-629020190000019009d

UNESCO. (1995). Declaration of Principles on Tolerance. Retrieved from https://www.unesco.org/en/legal-affairs/declaration-principles-tolerance?hub=66765

UNHCR. (2023). Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2022. Retrieved from https://www.unhcr.org/global-trends-report-2022

UNHCR. (2002). Integration Handbook for Resettled Refugees. Retrieved from https://www.unhcr.org/handbooks/ih/welcoming-inclusive-societies

Ziersch, A., Due, C., & Walsh, M. (2020). Discrimination: a health hazard for people from refugee and asylum-seeking backgrounds resettled in Australia. BMC Public Health 20, 108. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-8068-3

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