Global Consultations on Refugee Protection begin

Press Releases, 8 March 2001

GENEVA The first major meeting in an unprecedented global process designed to improve the international protection of refugees began in Geneva today. The initial discussion will focus on the protection of refugees during mass influxes.

This first substantive meeting involves the 56 governments that make up the Executive Committee of the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, as well as a further 35 governments in an observer capacity. Fifteen major international organizations including the European Commission, Council of Europe, Organization of African Unity, League of Arab States and Organization of American States are also participating, along with some 40 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which, as a group, will have the right to address the meeting.

This first meeting in the so-called Global Consultations process will focus on four important topics linked to the mass influx scenario:

  • The overall protection framework for refugees in mass influx situations
  • The maintenance of the civilian character of asylum (including the separation of armed elements and the status and treatment of ex-combatants)
  • Refugee registration
  • Burden- and responsibility-sharing by states

UNHCR, which has organized the Global Consultations process to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, is hoping that this first meeting will produce practical recommendations for building on and improving the current systems for coping with mass movements of refugees.

Any such recommendations will then feed into the single most important Global Consultations event: a ministerial conference of all 140 states that have ratified the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol. This conference, which will take place on 12 December, is being jointly organized by UNHCR and the Swiss Government. It will be the most significant international meeting on refugees for half a century.

The Global Consultations process is taking place throughout 2001 in various forms and locations and will continue even after the December conference. As well as involving governments and UNHCR, many other organizations and individuals including international and regional organizations, NGOs, academics, legal specialists and other experts in the refugee field as well as refugees themselves all have an important role to play.

The principal aim of the process is to set the agenda for refugee protection in the 21st century, rooted in the solid foundations of the 1951 Convention, but taking into account the various changes in global circumstances over the past half century.

Expert roundtables, focusing on specific legal interpretations of various articles of the 1951 Convention, will be held in Lisbon (3-4 May), Cambridge, UK (9-10 July), San Remo, Italy (6-8 September), and Geneva (8-9 November). In addition, the first of a series of regional meetings has already taken place in Pretoria (26-7 February), and others are currently scheduled for Ottawa (14-15 May), Cairo (15-17 May), Macau (May), San Jose, Costa Rica (7-8 June), and Norway (September). These meetings will deal with issues not fully covered by the 1951 Convention or its Protocol.

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2011 Global Trends

UNHCR's annual Global Trends report shows 2011 to have been a record year for forced displacement across borders, with more people becoming refugees than at any time since 2000. Of the 4.3 million people newly displaced in 2011, 800,000 actually left their countries and thus became refugees.

Worldwide, 42.5 million people ended 2011 either as refugees (15.2 million), internally displaced (26.4 million) or in the process of seeking asylum (895,000).

The report also highlights several worrying trends: One is that forced displacement is affecting larger numbers of people globally, with the annual number exceeding 42 million in the last five years. Another is that a person who becomes a refugee is likely to remain one for several years: of the 10.4 million refugees under UNHCR's mandate, almost three-quarters (7.1 million) have been in protracted exile for at least five years awaiting a solution.

2011 Global Trends

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

Education for Displaced Colombians

UNHCR works with the government of Colombia to address the needs of children displaced by violence.

Two million people are listed on Colombia's National Register for Displaced People. About half of them are under the age of 18, and, according to the Ministry of Education, only half of these are enrolled in school.

Even before displacement, Colombian children attending school in high-risk areas face danger from land mines, attacks by armed groups and forced recruitment outside of schools. Once displaced, children often lose an entire academic year. In addition, the trauma of losing one's home and witnessing extreme violence often remain unaddressed, affecting the child's potential to learn. Increased poverty brought on by displacement usually means that children must work to help support the family, making school impossible.

UNHCR supports the government's response to the educational crisis of displaced children, which includes local interventions in high-risk areas, rebuilding damaged schools, providing school supplies and supporting local teachers' organizations. UNHCR consults with the Ministry of Education to ensure the needs of displaced children are known and planned for. It also focuses on the educational needs of ethnic minorities such as the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Education for Displaced Colombians