Treaty Violators Make Mockery of Refugee Convention
By Thalif Deen
United Nations, Jul 23 2019 (IPS) - With the rise of rightwing nationalism, primarily in the Western world, an increasingly large number of countries are not only abandoning multilateralism but also violating international treaties and conventions signed and ratified in a bygone era.
The most blatant is the violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which has been ratified by 145 State parties, and which also defines the term “refugee” while outlining the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of states to protect them.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the core principle of the Convention is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a rule of customary international law.
But several countries, including the US, Australia, France, Italy and Hungary, are flouting the Convention because they have either barred or severely restricted the inflow of refugees—and also penalized those who have assisted refugees (as in the US and Italy).
Categorized mostly as “political refugees”, they originate largely from conflict-ridden countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Myanmar and Venezuela, among others.
In an interview with IPS, Marco Funk, Policy Officer at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s (FES) European Union (EU) Office, told IPS the context of today’s refugee situation is quite different from what it was in the aftermath of World War II, when the 1951 Convention was signed.
The original Convention itself was actually limited in scope to Europeans – this geographical limitation was only lifted by an additional protocol in 1967, which some countries did not implement. Turkey is a notable example, he said.
“Many other countries around the world, especially wealthy ones, have made it increasingly difficult for refugees to seek international protection and thus either indirectly or in some cases directly violate the convention they have signed and ratified”, he pointed out.
Racism certainly is a factor, but so is the pervasive fear of negative effects on destination countries’ economies and their security, said Funk, who is responsible for the FES’s Brussels-based activities related to EU migration and home affairs.
He said the significant increase in legal migration to developed countries since the 1950s also plays a role.
Attempts to restrict migration can be seen not only in Europe, the US and Australia, he said, but also in East Asia and even some parts of the developing world.
“Wherever there is displacement, there is usually also a counter-strategy of containment by countries of destination”.
“The international community should respond by drawing attention to the rights outlined in the Refugee Convention and violations of them where they occur, but that is not enough”, said Funk, who previously worked as a Policy Analyst for the European Policy Centre, where he focused on EU migration and asylum policy.
He argued that more effort should be put into highlighting and addressing the root causes of displacement, and using other relevant international agreements to their fullest extent in order to mitigate the drivers of forced migration.
At the same time, legal channels of migration should also be expanded, he noted.
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