The 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees falls this year, offering the occasion to reflect on the Convention’s continuing relevance.
In order to explore the way ahead for refugee protection it is important to situate the Convention and the refugee protection regime in its present context. What is the Convention and what is it not, as an instrument of refugee protection today?
One area of debate and conflict between states with ‘mature’ individually-based refugee determination systems and many NGOs and academics concerns access by asylum seekers and the way they are treated once they gain access.
The international protection of refugees, considered the responsibility of the international community, has a long and distinguished history dating back to the first efforts of the League of Nations.
The 1951 Geneva Convention, an instrument to protect the rights of those displaced outside their countries of origin, has turned 50. Instead of being universally celebrated as a cornerstone of international human rights policy, it has come under attack. It is ironic that much of the sniping has come from those same countries which were present and active at its birth, such as the United Kingdom. The close connections between Ireland and Britain in terms of population movements and the designation of a common travel area give rise to fears that the Convention may be undermined in the Republic of Ireland. If this happened it would be sadly ironic at a time when both parts of the island are striving to build peace and a culture of human rights.
Integration of refugees into a host society has long been seen by UNHCR as a permanent solution to the refugee issue.
Since 1947, 30-40 million people have crossed the borders of South Asian states in search of refuge and almost every country has produced and/or received refugees.
In over 40 countries, in literally all regions of the world, 20-25m people are displaced as a result of conflict and human rights violations. Millions more have been uprooted due to natural or man-made disasters.
“We would never push refugees across a border at gunpoint,” replied the UNHCR official.
As Yugoslavia disintegrated, the town of Prijedor in northwest Bosnia and Herzegovina witnessed one of the worst examples of ethnic cleansing during the 1992-1995 war.
The establishment of UNHCR in 1951 and the parallel negotiations for the UN Refugee Convention were the first pillars in a permanent programme of international protection for refugees.