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A refugee Agenda for Protection

News Stories, 14 December 2001

GENEVA, Dec. 14 (UNHCR) After an unprecedented global recommitment to the principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention, work will now move forward on an Agenda for Protection to strengthen help for millions of uprooted peoples and examine such issues as security concerns and burden-sharing among nations.

A ministerial-level conference attended by 156 countries, non-governmental organizations and other groups in Geneva held on December 12-13 adopted a declaration which committed signatory nations to "implement our obligations under the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol fully and effectively" and hailed the treaty as one of 'relevance and resilience' and of 'enduring importance.'

The public affirmation by so many nations was particularly important at a time when the Convention has been increasingly criticized as outdated and in the wake of the September attacks in the United States which helped prompt rising xenophobia, and in many countries tougher anti-terrorism and immigration policies, some of which could have an adverse effect on refugees and asylum seekers.

"The Convention will go on," High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers told the meeting. From that starting point "we can try to improve the policies. The problem is not the Convention; the Convention is the solution."

The Conference was held under the auspices of a lengthy UNHCR initiative called Global Consultations on International Protection which was launched in early 2001 involving humanitarian organizations, governments, academics and refugee law experts and will continue into next year.

Building on the success of the Geneva gathering, work will now focus on an Agenda for Protection, a series of activities which will serve as a guide to governments and humanitarian organizations in promoting greater overall refugee protection.

There will be five major areas of concentration including strengthening the implementation of the Convention, ensuring protection of refugees within broader migration movements, improving burden-sharing among receiving nations, handling security-related concerns more effectively and redoubling efforts to find long-lasting solutions for refugees.

Some of the activities envisaged for each of those objectives include:

The implementation of the Convention and its protocol should be strengthened by: encouraging universal accession, improving individual status determination procedures and striving for more consistency and uniformity among nations in excluding from the 'protection regime' people guilty of serious crimes such as terrorism. Efforts should also be made to improve the registration of refugee populations, address the root causes of refugee movements and recognize the contributions of refugees to society.

The protection of refugees within broader migration movements could be enhanced by: strengthening international efforts to combat human trafficking, informing potential migrants of the opportunities for legal emigration, expediting the return of persons found not to be in need of protection and fostering cooperation between UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Burden-sharing more equitably among nations could be improved by: increasing responsibility-sharing arrangements to help countries of first asylum, strengthening protection partnerships with civil societies, anchoring refugee issues within national and regional development agendas and promoting resettlement as a burden-sharing tool.

Security related concerns could be addressed by: helping states, financially or materially, to separate armed elements from refugee populations and improving the protection of refugee women and children.

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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