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Protection Of Refugees And Asylum Seekers

It is a general conception that refugees are vulnerable people, who come to seek protection from prosecution, experience further breaches of their human rights as a consequence of our system of mandatory detention. Generally people become refugees to flee violence, economic disparity, repression, natural disaster, and other harsh living and working conditions. The United Nations more narrowly defines refugees as persons who are outside their country and cannot return owing to a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

For the most part, little assistance reaches a person fleeing a conflict until he or she crosses an international border. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), established in 1950, distinguishes refugees and IDPs as:
When a fleeing civilian crosses an international frontier, he or she becomes a refugee and as such is eligible to receive international protection and help. If a person in similar circumstances is displaced within his or her home country and becomes an internally displaced person, then assistance and protection is much more difficult.

On Jan. 1, 2002, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that there were more than 12 million refugees in the world. This number of refugees has remained relatively constant at greater than 10 million since 1981. Some refugees have been living in camps for most of their lives. For example, Afghans have lived in camps in Pakistan and Iran since the early 1980s when the Soviet Union invaded their nation. While some return each year to resettle, almost equal numbers leave to escape new regional fighting. The number of Afghan refugees living abroad now stands at over 3.5 million

Currently, Asia hosts nearly 50 percent of the world's refugee population, with Africa and Europe both hosting just over 20 percent. Ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, central Africa (Angola, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundi), and Bosnia-Herzegovina have either created new refugees or prevented refugees from returning home in 2001. Each of these countries now has over 400,000 refugees living abroad, with Afghanistan having at least seven times more than any other.

Today a larger number of refugees go for dangerous journeys fleeing from place to place. The International law has stipulated and states have long recognized the right of refugees to protection and asylum. When considering asylum requests, States cannot make distinctions based on religion or other identity – nor can they force people to return to places from which they have fled if there is a well-founded fear of persecution or attack. This is not only a matter of international law; it is also our duty as human beings.

It is the shared responsibility of all community to protect the refugees and now much more is required. All governments should provide comprehensive responses, expand safe and legal channels of migration and act with humanity, compassion and in accordance with their international obligations.

It should also be remembered that high number of refugees and migrants are the symptom of deeper problems, endless conflict, and grave violations of human rights, tangible governance failures and harsh repression. The Syrian was has just been manifested on a roadside in the heart of Europe.

In addition to upholding responsibilities, the international community must also show greater determination in resolving conflicts and other problems that leave people little choice but to flee. The problems of refugees are a human tragedy that requires a determined collective political response. It is a crisis of solidarity, not a crisis of numbers.

Thus these issues should be the area of focus and priority of leaders of world community before United Nations.

Throughout the world and over the centuries, societies have welcomed frightened, weary strangers, the victims of persecution and violence. This humanitarian tradition of offering sanctuary is often now played out on television screens across the globe as war and large-scale persecution produce millions of refugees and internally displaced persons.

Yet even as people continue to flee from threats to their lives and freedom, governments are, for many reasons, finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile their humanitarian impulses and obligations with their domestic needs and political realities. At the start of the 21st century, protecting refugees means maintaining solidarity with the world’s most threatened, while finding answers to the challenges confronting the international system that was created to do just that.[1]

A central practice to the United Nations is the protection of humanitarian rights. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 it reads:
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,”[2] and from this declaration the United Nations’ commitment to the protection and assistance of refugees, displaces persons, and asylum seekers began. According to the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees there are 51 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, all of whom have been uprooted from their homes and must seek asylum elsewhere. This is the most since the end of the Second World War seventy years ago. Such numbers testify to the several problems of internal warfare and armed conflict in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria.

While humanitarian obligations are universally accepted, their interpretation depends not only on international law, but also on domestic law of welcoming countries as well as their government policies. Virtually all states say they respect the needs and rights of refugees and internally displaced people. But the willingness to accept refugees varies greatly. Countries like Ethiopia, Germany, India, Kenya, Jordan, Pakistan, Russia, Sweden, Turkey and Ukraine, for example, are widely recognized for their willingness to accept refugees. Countries like Australia and the United States have more complicated polices and take far fewer.

1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol

This treaty is split into 6 chapters that cover the topics, general provisions regarding refugees, juridical status of refugees, the right to gainful employment, welfare, administrative measures to be taken by the host state, executory and transitory provisions, and final clauses. Each chapter is made of articles and within these the rights of refugees were enumerated. The general provisions section of the treaty enumerates the basic rights of a refugee and establishes what a refugee actually is.

The convention defines a refugee as As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” The inclusion of the section about occurring before 1 January 1951 would become an issue later on because new refugee crises arise and these same rights would be applied to them.

This part of the definition was taken out at the second convention relating to the status of refugees in 1966. This chapter goes on to enumerate several key rights, they include: refugees are to be granted the same rights as aliens, the ability to live under the same circumstances as though they were not a refugee, protection against discrimination, a refugee is obliged to abide by the laws and customs of their host state, and guarantees the right to freely practice religion.

The following chapter addresses the judicial rights of refugees, and inside of the chapter the rights to have access to courts, they have the same protection of their intellectual and personal property as anyone else, and the right to free association.

Chapter three focuses only on gainful employment. In short refugees have the right to work in any way they wish as long as they follow the laws of the country of residence. Chapter four focuses on welfare. Refugees must receive a food ration and the option of public education; otherwise they are to be treated as any other alien would. The rest of the chapters are pointed directly at the states on the administrative side of refugee relief and making sure that a system is in place to actually make sure these refugees can be helped.

The rights given in the convention were not extended to those who were deemed to be against the United Nation’s principles and this includes committing crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes against peace, or serious non-political crimes. One topic central to the convention was the prevention of the process called refoulement. Refoulement is the deportation of asylum seekers, sending them back to their original country when they still are in danger[3]

Current Situations
Currently there are a multitude of refugee crises happing. Some of the most urgent situations and some of largest host country situations are as follows:
Host States:
The diverse nature of country responses to refugee issues are illustrated by a few prominent examples. While virtually all countries have accepted some refugees or IDPS, the issues of refugee status is especially controversial in countries like these:

Australia
Australian politics have usually maintained a strict immigration policy, and that is not changed when it comes to asylum seekers. Beginning in 2008 Australia’s government resumed the operation of its offshore asylum processing centers in Nauru, Papua New Guinea, and on Christmas Island (an island northwest of Australia owned by Australia). When an asylum seeker is taken in by Australia they are moved to one of the three offshore processing centers while they await their status.

The government then made a deal with the Cambodian government to allow for the resettlement of refugees from these offshore processing centers into Cambodia. In 2013 the Australian government began a program titled Operation Sovereign Borders to address maritime asylum seekers. Sri Lankan, Afghani, Iranian, and Iraqi asylum seekers commonly make the dangerous voyage via boat to Australia, and under this program the processing of these maritime asylum seekers was placed into the hands of the Australian navy.

Under this policy the Australian navy has been towing boats of asylum seekers back to their place of origin. In September of 2014 alone 12 boats filled with asylum seekers were towed back. The international community has responded by accusing the Australian government of refoulement, a practice that has been combated internationally since the League of Nations.

Ethiopia
Ethiopia in 2014 overtook Kenya as the country with the most refugees in Africa. By the end of July Ethiopia became host to over 620,000 refugees. Most of these new refugees are from a growing situation in South Sudan. Ethiopia is also a major host for Somali and Eritrean refugees who make up the second and third most refugee numbers in the country. Unlike the previously mentioned hosts, Ethiopia has signed the convention and protocol for refugees.

Lebanon
Lebanon currently is host to over 1,000,000 Syrian refugees, and that’s just the registered number of refugees in the country and does not count the huge number of refugees from other countries. Lebanon is situated between the Syrian, Iraqi, and the Palestinian refugee crises.

While the country has staggering numbers concerning the amount of humanitarian support it gives to their refugees, the budget for their refugee program is more than 800 million dollars short of the needed amount of funds. The lack of funds and widespread international support like what is given to Jordan has put enormous strain on Lebanon and its people.

Pakistan
accounts for nearly one fourth of the population of Afghanistan. Currently Pakistan is host to 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees. Like Jordan, Pakistan has not signed the Convention of 1951 or the Protocol of 1967. Pakistan is also a refugee situation itself, with over 43,000 refugees originating from Pakistan.

The government of Pakistan despite never signing the convention of 1951 or the protocol of 1967 has been working with the UNHCR to an impressive extent. Over 5 million Afghans have been successfully resettled into their place of origin since 2001.

Somalia
Somalia has one of the worst displacement crises in the world. Over two million Somalis have been forcibly displaced. Approximately one million of these are internally displaced, and the other million or so are mostly spread about its neighbors, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen.

With a mix of political instability and famine nearly a million more Somalis are at risk. The government that assumed power in 2012 exercises next to no power in the state and the country is either run by the extremist organization Al Shabab, regional war lords, or by de facto independent states such as Somaliland. The humanitarian situation in Somalia seems to only be deteriorating as the amount of Somalis at risk for famine is rising and the pressure the situation is placing on Somalia’s neighbors grows.

Syria
The Syrian Civil War has been raging since 2011, and since then an estimated 9 million Syrians have either been internally displaced or have fled to neighboring countries as asylum seekers. The crisis has put enormous strain on the asylum systems of states worldwide. 2.5 million Syrians have fled Syria to its immediate neighbors and over 6 million Syrians are internally displaced. Even though the Syrian refugees are in huge numbers only around 100,000 have been lodged in Europe.

In the mid-year report from the UNHCR out of the 44 developed countries selected for the study almost all of them had Syrians as the most numerous nationality applying for asylum in their country. What makes this situation worse is that no end is clearly visible, and the international community will be dealing with the fallout of this war for a very long time.

The delegates are expected to discuss the problem and come up with possible solutions to tackle the problem.

References:
  1. Refugees International. Somalia | Refugees International. Somalia | Refugees International. http://refugeesinternational.org/where-we-work/africa/somalia (accessed October 15, 2014).
    BBC News. Australia asylum: Why is it controversial? BBC News. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-28189608 (accessed October 14, 2014).
    The European Union. Hello, World!. Syrian Refugees. http://syrianrefugees.eu/ (accessed October 15, 2014).
  2. http://www.unhcr.org/3d4aba564.pdf
  3. UN. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UDHR, Declaration of Human Rights, Human Rights Declaration, Human Rights Charter, The Un and Human Rights. UN News Center.
  4. Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees

Written by: Sayed Qudrat Hashimy - International Law Student
E-mail: Sayedqudrathashimy[at]gmail.com , Mobile No.+91 900 8813333  

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