“Rights and Status of Refugees – An International Perspective”

“No one leaves home unless the home is the mouth of a shark- Warsan Shire.”

Refugees are the people who are forced to flee from their own country due to persecution on an individual basis or as a part of a mass exodus because of race, nationality, political, military, and religious or other problems. According to United Nations Convention, 1951- The person who owns to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for the above reasons is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country or return there because there is a fear of persecution. The World nowadays is facing the biggest refugee crisis since World War-II. Nearly 60 million people have displaced from their home where in 4 million people are from Syria, 2 million are from Turkey and 1 million are from Lebanon alone.

As listed in the ‘Refugee Convention’ under Article 1(a) (2) - Reasons for the persecution of refugees would be on any one of the following five grounds: Race, Religion, Nationality, and Membership of a particular social group or Political Opinion. Persecution based on any other ground is not considerable. International Law recognizes the concept of ‘Right to Asylum’ but does not oblige states to provide it. When some nations face a sudden mass influx of the people, states at times offer ‘temporary protection’ and their asylum systems would be overwhelmed. In such situations, people are normally admitted to other countries safely but without any guarantee of permanent asylum. That was why temporary asylum is useful to both the government as well as asylum seekers but at only at particular circumstances.

Initially, most of the refugees were from European Countries. But from the past five decades majority of today’s refugees are from Africa and Asia. Refugees wait for the durable solutions for their predicament. When refugees have granted permanent or temporary asylum in the neighboring countries, they are not able to regularize their status as earlier they used to have in their own countries. Their rights are highly deprived and restricted, educational and recreational opportunities are often non-existent or severely lacking. These refugees may also be subjected to attack, either by local security forces or by cross-border incursions from the country of origin. The important protection for refugees in International Law is the principle of ‘non-discrimination.’ This concept ensures that refugees even though they are not citizens of the asylum country, are entitled to the same fundamental rights and freedoms as citizens.

Rights of refugees:

Refugees are the individuals who are in grave danger in their own countries who cross an international border in search of protection. They have to flee from the country and they have to find a country of asylum in order to get legal protection and refugee status in the other country. Their human rights should never be violated. According to Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Article 13.2- Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own country and return to his own country. According to Article 14.2- Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from protection. Other than these guaranteed by UDHR there are some other rights of refugees as listed below.

  • Right to an asylum.
  • Protection against forcible return.
  • Protection of refugees rights in asylum countries.
  • Protection of refugees civil rights.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees:

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established in 1950 by the resolution of U.N General Assembly and its main function is to provide international protection to refugees. It provides this protection to refugees in order to compensate for their lack or the denial of national protection. The UNHCR highly pays concentration to provide protection needs for refugee women and children. Other organs of the UN especially the ‘Economic and Social Council’ is also working to improve the status of the refugees and to ensure them good human treatment.

Written By: Roopa Surya, A student of NBM Law College as part of the Internship Program

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“Refugee Law and Gender Insensitivity”

Recently, the international community has witnessed various refugee movements and displacements which have been caused due to emerging conflicts. For quite a long time, a need for a framework was felt with respect to persons in need of international protection. After revisions to the different international conventions, the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 along with its Protocol was introduced which was a milestone towards offering international protection. After the introduction of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, a refugee was no longer considered as a displaced person. The convention gained popularity primarily due to its framework which defined who is a refugee and imposed certain rights and obligations to the contracting states with respect to its treatment of refugees. At present, international law offers international protection to refugees under international refugee law and international human rights law. However, one of the biggest challenges faced by the refugees is the lack of access to international protection. The question at this point is as to why this issue arises? The majority of the states are reluctant to accept the responsibility of giving shelter and international protection to refugees. Moreover, till date, there are various States without refugee laws or have not ratified the international convention with respect to international protection. Apart from the above, one of the most common struggle faced by the international community is of implementation. Various scholars have suggested ineffective implementation and lack of enforcement procedures for the inaccessibility to international protection. Another view which has been presented is in respect of social, economic, political and cultural processes within nation-states that resist the effective enforcement of such rights.

It is no doubt true that a refugee movement affects women differently as compared to men primarily because of the physical insecurity bordering women. Apart from this, the very definition of refugee as stated in 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and its 1967 Protocol is discriminatory as it defines a refugee as someone who:

“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.”

This definition of a refugee has been criticized at various steps of the way not only for its concentration of men refugees but also because it covers only civil and political rights and ignores the economic, social and cultural rights. It is evident from the past, that civil and political rights are not causes to flee persecution. Women on a day-to-day basis suffer from constant abuse, rape and torture which are a violation of their economic and social rights. It is quite disappointing to see that under the international human rights framework, international law is constantly evolving and women’s rights are considered as a top priority yet, on the other hand under the refugee law framework, women’s rights are either not addressed or subsumed under broader categories of persecution.

Written By: Ananya Madhusudan, A student of OPJGU, Sonepat as part of the Internship Program

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“Home. Oh No!”

“If only we all could have a place we could call home”

A refugee is known by many definitions ranging from the most inclusive to the most limiting. He is someone who "owing to a 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 to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." The definition contains numerous terms like Stateless people, Undocumented migrants, asylum-seekers, internally displaced, refugees and prima facie refugees under the ambit of refugees.

The definition in the convention contains 3 specific elements when talking about refugee rights. The first element is that the person or asylum seeker has to be staying away from his/her home country. The second talks about the home country to be unable to provide protection to him/her, and thirdly, person to have a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion that must be found. The third element being the key part of the definition, which tends to contain a subjective element due to its use of the term “fear”. Thus, the legal status determination of a refugee requires above all a thorough assessment of the applicant’s overall condition and statements rather than just a judgment as to the situation existing in his/her country of origin.

The “fear” brings us to a very fundamental concept of customary international law, which is the principle of Non-refoulement that plays a very crucial role; this principle prohibits the eviction, expulsion or return of an alien to his state of origin or another state where he is at risk that his life or freedom would be threatened for discriminatory reasons as stated in Article 33 (1) of the 1951 Refugee Convention. The word ‘Non-refoulement’ is derived from the French word ‘refouler’, meaning to drive back or to repel. It is regarded as one of the most important principles of refugee and immigration law. It provides asylum seekers safety from persecution back home and strengthens the value of an individual’s right to live with dignity.

This principle has certain exceptions though for the benefit of both the parties involved which is stated in Article 33 (2) of the Convention. Refugees seeking asylums that could become a threat to the security and nationality of a country or those who have been convicted of serious crimes are and can be refused refuge under this exception. But this principle is absolute in nature other than these exceptions as, countries not the party to the convention also are under an obligation to follow it as it is declared in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and persons not officially granted refugee statuses also have such a right. However not all the concerned people are aware of it, due to lack of documentation and legal status, refugees live in a constant state of confusion and chaos. They get sent back or deported to other countries citing reasons of unavailability of resources or rigid closed-door policies. Most of them having been out of educational institutions for years remain illiterate and vulnerable to countries with improper asylum facilities and paperwork.

It needs to be ensured that countries do not reject or send away refugees forcibly to volatile zones and are provided with adequate care and respect as asylum seekers. Persons of a particular community seen as a threat towards a country’s security should not lead to stereotyping of other people belonging to that community. The procedures for identifying refugees needs to make aware, the person about nonrefoulement principle and ensure he/she receive it, particularly when the country is frequent in migrations as well as refuge. Refugees are people like us but unfortunately torn apart from their homes due to political or civil unrest in their countries, they mostly never choose their fates so isn’t it an obligation on their hosts to not juggle them around?......The Debate is on.

Written By: Shambhavi Padhye, A student of SLS Pune as part of the Internship Program

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