Over the last 5 years, we have noticed a drammatic increase in the number of refugees in the world. We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record.
An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from their homes. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.
There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.
Nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute as a result of conflict or persecution. But, what do we know about them? Who is a refugee and how are they protected?
According to the international conventions on human rights, refugees are the persons forced to leave their place of permanent residence as a result of individual or group political, religious, military or other persecution.
There are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18
International law recognizes the right to seek asylum, but does not oblige the state to provide it. States sometimes provide "temporary protection" when faced with a massive influx of people, so that the usual mechanisms for granting asylum would not be overloaded.
Under such circumstances, people can be quickly admitted to safe countries, but without the guarantee of permanent asylum. Governments normally guarantee the basic human rights and physical security of citizens.
But when civilians become refugees, this safety net disappears. UNHCR’s main role, in pursuing international protection, is to ensure that states are aware of, and act on, their obligations to protect refugees and persons seeking asylum. However, it is not a supranational organization and cannot be considered as a substitute for government responsibility.
The following organizations play a major role in helping and protecting refugees around the world:
- UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The post of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established in 1951 to promote international refugee protection.
The main purpose of the organization is to ensure that all persons can realize their right to seek asylum and receive safe refuge in another country, and voluntarily return home.
2. International Committee of the Red Cross
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an independent humanitarian organization acting as a neutral party, to help and defend victims of war.
3. United Nations (UN)
4. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) - The first international document recognizing the right to seek and receive asylum from persecution.
5. Convention on the Status of Refugees (1951).
6. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) (articles 2, 12, 13) and others.
The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention, is a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.
The Convention also sets out which people do not qualify as refugees, such as war criminals.
According to the Convention:
All refugees should be issued with identity cards and travel documents that allow them to travel outside the country.
Refugees, as well as citizens of the host country, must have equal treatment with respect to the following rights:
- Freedom to practice religion and religious education
- Free access to court, including legal assistance
- Access to primary education
- Access to government assistance and support
- Protection of social security
- Protection of intellectual property, such as copyright and industrial rights
- Protection of literary, cultural and scientific activities
- Equitable taxation.
Refugees should be accorded the most favorable treatment with regard to the following rights:
- The right to belong to trade unions
- The right to belong to other non-political non-profit organizations
- The right to work and to receive wages for work
- The right to property
- The right to use the profession
- The right to self-employment
- Access to housing
- Access to higher education
According to some analysts, wars, armed clashes, national conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Syria and Myanmar, as well as economic crises and the problem of climate change, due to which the number of refugees around the world is growing, are directly linked to the policy of the world powers.