The UK "must not surrender the meaning of Britishness" to the BNP, bigots and xenophobes, the Deputy Prime Minister has said.
During a speech at the Refugee Council Day Centre in Brixton, south London, Nick Clegg said "true patriots must reclaim this ground". He was speaking to mark the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the formation of the Refugee Council in the UK.
Mr Clegg said its achievements should be celebrated, but warned there was "still progress to be made". He told the audience how the coalition has used its first year in power to adapt the Government's approach to asylum, saying: "Think back to the situation we inherited - a system in chaos."
The Liberal Democrat praised the openness of Britain in giving asylum to "honest and hard working men and women" and British lawyers who played a key role in drafting the UN Convention.
He said: "We must not surrender the meaning of Britishness to bigots, xenophobes, to organisations like the BNP. Liberals, progressives, true patriots must reclaim this ground.
"So the coalition Government is trying to unwind the damage of years of mismanagement and populism. We want to do everything we can to make sure refugees get the help they need."
The Deputy Prime Minister said: "The mark and the measure of any civilised society is how it treats the voiceless."
Addressing further how he believes the idea of "Britishness" has been hijacked by the far right, he said: "Sensible debate on these issues has been hampered by myths and misconceptions."
Mr Clegg admitted the Government is taking "difficult decisions" in its cuts across departments and agencies, which has put pressure on charities.
But he said the coalition is approaching asylum in three areas: sorting out inefficiency, ending unfair practices, and acting internationally to help as many refugees as possible.