World Refugee Day: The need for a more equitable burden-sharing in refugee protection

SPECIAL GUEST POST FROM FRIEND OF HUMAN RIGHTS FORUM, MARINA LOURENÇO. MARINA IS CURRENTLY A MASTER STUDENT OF INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW AT ÅBO AKADEMI.

It has already been some time since other voices started to call the world’s attention to the fact that developing countries are bearing a much heavier burden in refugee protection than does the developed world. On Monday UNHCR (the United Nations Agency for Refugees) published its annual special report Global Trends 2010 in celebration of the Refugee Day and drew our attention again to the miserable situation of refugees around the world. It restates that the world’s poorest countries are the ones hosting the biggest refugee populations, both in absolute terms but also in relation to their economies.

The report’s conclusions, although not exactly new, are certainly striking. The number of people forced to flee their homes (including both refugees and internally displaced persons) has been reaching the highest for the last 15 years. From each five refugees, four are in developing countries. The most relevant cause of displacement is still violence and protracted conflicts. Several new conflicts have emerged in recent years, while others have lasted much longer than expected, impeding refugees and displaced people to return home. But we have watched increasing numbers of people who had fled their homes as a result of climate change. The report also draws attention to the fact that many countries still detain refugees for illegal entry, and many more still incur in refoulement.

This year’s Refugee Day also reminds us of the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention, but we may not have much to celebrate. Specially on the last two decades, several countries have been developing very strict systems of border control. The justification for that often lies on a right of States to control the entry of foreigners as well as on security concerns, but the problem is that they may result in denial of protection to people whose lives and freedom are in danger.

While States do have a right to control entry and expulsion of aliens, that is certainly not an absolute prerogative. 60 years ago the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was promulgated and by joining it, States made a series of compromises with which many are not complying today. One of the core provisions of the convention establishes the so-called principle of non-refoulement, which basically prohibits States to expel or return (refouler) a refugee to the frontiers of territories where his or her life or freedom would be in danger.

A crucial problem arises when States create mechanisms to impede refugees to ever access their borders. And this is done by several means: visa regimes whose requirements refugees are not in condition to comply with, carrier sanctions that impose on airlines and other transportation service providers a fine for admitting on board travellers without the appropriate documentation, immigration officers placed in foreign airports or territories who impede potential asylum seekers to even exercise their right to leave their own country (a right which is guaranteed by the core human rights documents), and this is just to name a few.

In theory, those practices exempt States from the risk of incurring in refoulement. In practice, however, they leave refugees without any protection, strengthening the chains of people smuggling and even making them more vulnerable targets to human trafficking. Europe is unfortunately not alone and similar practices can be observed in other parts of the developed world, but it is probably the most elucidative example of this situation. Ignoring the special needs and circumstances of refugees, the current mechanisms of border control have created what has been called the “fortress Europe” and placed refugees into a broader group of potentially illegal immigrants which Europe so insistently fights to keep away from its borders.

During this special week when we think over the rights of refugees, António Guterres, the chief of UNHCR, has called States for a more equitable burden-sharing and reaffirmed that “when people are fleeing violence, borders must be kept open”. He has also highlighted some recent very inspiring examples of refugee crises management. The first one in Tunisia: the country kept its borders open to the big influx of Libyan refugees, who found protection even in the homes of Tunisian citizens. The second remarkable example is also the most recent refugee crisis, which resulted from clashes between government and protesters in Syria. Despite the risks that such a sudden and continued influx pose to its own internal stability, Turkey has kept the borders open to Syrian refugees and has promptly provided for their basic needs.

UNHCR has produced a very interesting short video with findings of its Global Trends 2010 report and an overview on the current world’s refugee situation: http://unhcr.org/v-4dff6b8d6

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Comments
5 Responses to “World Refugee Day: The need for a more equitable burden-sharing in refugee protection”
  1. laiz lourenço ferreira says:

    Muito bom!!!!
    E eu tenho essa fot que adoro!

    • Following a pro-active political approach in dual state relations, in terms of preventing the root cause of “migration” could be effective in reducing unexpected expenditure as well as contributing the stability and consistency of the “Developing (!) States”. Nevertheless, once in negative externality circle, losing international compliance and recognition, allows some others (!) to make profit from any case. Thus, limitations and guidance of internationally agreed intervention methods should be essential to hit the target and to defend the case from benefit-focused helping hands…

      However, I’d like to give special appreciation to the authors of this website for contributing efforts and dedicating un-recyclable time on the way of seeking a nicer life for us. Let’s keep throwing the drop in to the ocean…

      Thanks,

      Tim

      • Marina says:

        I agree, it would certainly be “cleverer” to divert part of the immense financial resources being employed in border control to conflict prevention or other measures that would prevent people to face situations where they have no choice but leave their homes.

        Taking the risk of being too pessimistic in such a sunny Friday afternoon (well, at least in this side of the “developed” world – yes, I also find this terminology embarrassing to say the least, but we need labels so desperately, don’t we?), I wanted to share the latest developments in EU concerning borders (sorry! This one is in Spanish: http://www.elpais.com/articulo/internacional/UE/reintroducira/controles/fronterizos/internos/caracter/excepcional/elpepuint/20110624elpepuint_4/Tes).

        We are very close to take a step back and reintroduce internal border control in what they are calling “extraordinary circumstances”. And it is not difficult to guess which are these circumstances, we have a very fresh example: France is very unhappy to receive all these Tunisians that Italy and Malta let enter and whose goal was to reach a country in which they could communicate in their own language (which is very natural!).

        Here there is a link to a short but interesting debate hosted by France24 about something I mentioned in my text, the “fortress Europe”: http://www.france24.com/en/20110521-europe-refugees-european-union-european-parliament .

    • Marina says:

      Obrigada, tia!

  2. Kurt Kobain says:

    No country can produce human rights if any one claims that, but the country is formed when there are human rights arising. This is best expressed by:
    “America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense… human rights invented America.”

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