The human losses caused by the First and Second World Wars prompted governments to establish international laws to protect refugees fleeing conflict areas, but things are now different, which raises many questions about the exact definition of a refugee, and the protection they are entitled to under international law.
In the middle of the year 1951, the United Nations adopted the “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees”, which entered into force in 1954. This convention is known as the “Refugee Convention”, and it provided a set of guiding principles on the treatment of people fleeing persecution, but is the definition of refugees still the same 70 years after the agreement?
Refugee Convention; The definition of a refugee was first established 100 years ago. In 1921, the League of Nations formed a High Commission for Refugees to help the millions of people made stateless after World War I. After World War II, Europe faced a refugee crisis greater than it experienced in World War I.
The UN Convention defines a refugee as “a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political orientation.” The basic principle of refugee protection under the Convention is: non-refoulement, that is, the prohibition of returning people to countries where they face a real threat of persecution.
The agreement calls on the countries of the world not to punish refugees who entered their borders illegally, if they arrive directly from the place where they were threatened. The Convention also defends the rights of refugees to work, housing and education in the countries to which they have fled.
Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which was signed at the United Nations in 1948 – obligated the countries of the world to protect refugees, but it was the 1951 Refugee Convention that outlined that protection, and the first version of the agreement was limited to refugees as a result of the events that occurred in Europe before 1951.
In 1967, the “Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees” extended protection to refugees from outside the European continent, extending its validity beyond 1951. Between 1975 and 1989, proxy wars during the Cold War displaced millions, doubling the number of refugees in worldwide about 5 times, and the number has continued to increase since then.
Is there a need for a new definition of the Refugee Convention?
In our organization, we see that over the years, courts in various countries of the world have expanded their interpretation of the Convention. For example, some have recognized that illegal entry into a country should not prevent asylum seekers from staying even if they pass through a third country. We believe that the rights granted by the Convention to refugees are supported by other human rights treaties, such as the United Nations Convention against Torture, but that many people who have been forced to leave their homes are not covered by the provisions of the Convention.
Millions of people fleeing natural disasters are excluded from the protection provided. Since climate change threatens all societies without exception, the organization believes that “climate change migrants” deserve international protection, like the rest of the refugees.
The same applies to thousands of refugees who were stranded and moved from one country’s borders to another, hoping for safety and stable life; They have the right to asylum and to agree to it. A clear example in this regard is the Syrian refugees who move from one country to another and are subjected to violence and rights violations in Germany, France, and other countries.
Therefore, we see an imperative in our organization to re-evaluate the Refugee Convention and the agreements associated with it in line with the developments that have affected our planet and made the asylum process an inevitable necessity for the refugee’s preservation of his life, and the importance of obligating countries to implement the provisions of the new agreement.