June 20 – World Refugee Day

International law protects refugees – existing conventions must be applied

A resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 4, 2000 has made of June the 20th the World Refugee Day. Since then, this day is celebrated each year as a token of solidarity with Africa, a continent which hosts the most refugees worldwide.

Choosing this date was significant, because it coincides with the anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, modified by the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, two unique legal instruments that ensure international protection to refugees worldwide, and which specify that refugees should be treated as any other foreign person in a given country, and, in many cases, as any citizen of the same country.

The basic principle which forms the backbone of the 1951 Convention is that of non-refoulement, according to which refugees should not be returned or expelled to their country of origin, should they face threats on their lives or freedom.

In line with the latter principle, the 1951 Convention includes a series of rights that are important to refugees, and to those who need access in a given country:

  •   The right not to be expelled except under strictly defined conditions,
  •   The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of countries parties to the convention,
  •   The right to a paid employment,
  •   The right to housing,
  •   The right to public education,
  •   The right to public assistance,
  •   The right to freedom of religion,
  •   The right to access the courts,
  •   The right to freedom of movement in the territory,
  •   The right to receive identity and travel documents,

As it has been acknowledged in the message by Secretary-General of the United Nations on the occasion of the World Refugee Day, world conflicts continue to intensify, now as in 2014, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes – the case of Syria (a country which significantly contributes to the increase of refugees) is the most relevant, but other countries should also be mentioned including Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Mali or Eritrea, countries in which prolonged and unresolved conflicts are forcing tens of thousands to abandon their country and leave behind everything they have.

As indicated in a report on world’s refugees by Spanish NGO ACCEM, asylum requests worldwide are numbered in the thousands. In Spain only, some 5,615 applications for international protection were introduced in 2014, as compared with 4,285 in 2013 and 2,580 in 2012, i.e. a significant increase in three years.

According to the same source, a total of 626,065 applications for international protection were filed in the EU in 2014, as compared with 434,160 in 2013 and 332,000 in 2012, which appears to be somewhat more than a significant increase.

In view of these figures, and given the reality of today’s conflicts, the international community and civil society must remain engaged and committed to increasing their efforts to support these people and, even more importantly, they should show greater solidarity with countries hosting refugees, such as Spain and others, in the essential task they are carrying out.

June 20th should contribute to the recognition by the world countries of the 56 million people who were forced to leave their homes and countries because of wars, persecutions and human rights violations, as highlighted in the UNHCR’s latest global report in 2012.

The World Refugee Day should also serve to remind how essential it is to acquire the funds and resources needed to provide refugees with the support services to which they are entitled. These services must also be rendered in the best possible conditions, with programs dedicated to ensure people’s social integration in hosting countries. The European Refugee Fund (ERF) is an example of such resources; its goal is to “Support and enhance the efforts of member states to improve the reception conditions for refugees, apply fair and effective asylum procedures and promote good practice in this field in order to protect the rights of those requiring international protection and ensure that member states’ various asylum systems are working effectively.”

Association Dianova Spain

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