Summer course in France brings refugee protection to life

Setting the Agenda, 12 July 2010

© UNHCR/H.Gallet
The summer course on refugee law run by UNHCR in Strasbourg provides French-speakers with a rare opportunity to deepen their knowledge of refugee protection through practical exercises with participants from around the world.

STRASBOURG, France, July 12 (UNHCR) Karina Jasmine sobs quietly while telling the story of how she had to flee after receiving death threats because she refused to subject her daughter to genital mutilation in Kilina, her home country. Her story, poignantly told, is not different from thousands of other stories of persecution told by refugees every day around the world. Karina, however, is a fictitious character played by a UNHCR staff member as part of a simulated scenario, which forms part of the training received by participants at UNHCR's Refugee Law summer course in Strasbourg, France.

Bringing together human rights experts, lawyers, teachers, students and professionals from a variety of organisations, the refugee course has been taking place every summer for the last 13 years. It is one of the few courses on international refugee protection available in French and draws a large number of French-speaking participants, from Canada to Kazakhstan, with most of this year's participants coming Africa. After a rigorous selection process, fifty candidates were chosen from over 400 applicants from 33 countries.

The two-week course is organised jointly by UNHCR and the International Institute for Human Rights (IIDH), based in Strasbourg. It includes lectures on refugee law, refugee status determination, durable solutions, refugees in armed conflict and asylum and migration policies around the world.

Practical training includes a simulation exercise where participants have to solve a legal case involving a fictitious individual. Using different criteria for determining refugee status, the participants are asked to judge whether the individual would have been granted refugee status had the situation been real.

"The simulations bring refugee cases to life," says UNHCR's Fadma Moumtaz, who has been playing the role of a refugee woman since the exercise was introduced to the course seven years ago. "They can have a real person in front of them to whom they can ask questions as if they were in a real court of law. Every year participants have different questions and reactions."

The main objective of the course is to improve knowledge of international refugee law among professionals working in the field by teaching them how to identify and respond to individuals in need of international protection. After an examination, successful participants receive a certificate.

"We are very grateful to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs for funding this course, which is one of the very few of its kind," said Veronique Robert, Senior Protection Officer at the UNHCR Office in Paris. "Besides providing participants with the opportunity to increase their knowledge of refugee issues and international refugee principles, it is a great opportunity for them to meet with other experts coming from different countries and share experiences and best practices in the field of refugee protection".

This year the Refugee Law course took place from 14 to 25 June. The selection process for next year's participants is due to begin in April 2011.

By Alexandra Cwikiel and William Spindler in Paris, France




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Refugee Protection in International Law

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From the corners of the globe, the displaced converge in northern France

Hundreds of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees have created a number of makeshift camps in northern France. Drawn from a diverse range of countries, the men are hoping that from France they will be able to enter the United Kingdom.

Locals call it, "The Jungle" - a squalid warren of shanties made out of cardboard, plywood and bits of plastic that has mushroomed among the sand dunes and brambles outside Calais. Hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers from such faraway places as Afghanistan, Somalia and Vietnam have traveled for months and over rough terrain to camp out and eventually cross the 34-kilometre stretch of sea that separates Calais from England's White Cliffs of Dover.

Some have family in the UK or have heard that it is easy to get a good job there. Others have been forced to flee their countries because of political, religious or ethnic persecution, and may be entitled to refugee status.

Since early June, the UN refugee agency and its local partner, France Terre d'Asile, have been present in Calais, informing and counselling hundreds of people about asylum systems and procedures in France and the UK.

From the corners of the globe, the displaced converge in northern France

Braving the cold in Calais

Many boys and young men from places like Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and the Sudan end up in the northern French port of Calais after a long and dangerous journey. Some have fled their countries to escape persecution, conflict or forced recruitment, others are looking for a better life. Calais has become a transit point where people smugglers have established networks to take these men to other European countries. Their makeshift encampments are regularly cleared by the French police, and they sleep most nights out in the open. They live in fear of being arrested or deported. UNHCR's office in Calais seeks to provide the young men arriving in the city with information about their options and the asylum system in France.

Braving the cold in Calais

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