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Global Consultations Update No. 1 (on the Ministerial Meeting)

Global Consultations Update No. 1 (on the Ministerial Meeting)

16 November 2001

Landmark Ministerial Meeting on December 12-13

Next month's first-ever meeting of the 141 States that have signed the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (and/or its 1967 Protocol) has now been extended to cover two days - from December 12-13 - and will be followed by a special meeting of African ministers. It was originally scheduled to take place on 12 December only.

The prolongation of the ministerial level meeting, which will take place at the UN's Geneva headquarters, is a result of the increasing level of interest in this unique event, whose the primary purpose is to reaffirm of the 1951 Convention, while providing a forum for the assembled Interior and Foreign Ministers to discuss a number of highly topical refugee-related issues.

The meeting, which is being co-hosted by the Swiss government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, will mark the end of the first phase of a wide-ranging process called the Global Consultations on International Protection, which was launched at the start of the year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention.

According to the UN High Commissioner of Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, it is "the most important global meeting on refugees since the Convention was first drawn up 50 years ago - and is particularly timely given the somewhat heated, and often confused, debate that has grown up around refugees and asylum in recent years."

An extra urgency has been added, according to some participating states, by the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., which has brought to the forefront numerous issues related to national security and the fight against terrorism.

The ministerial meeting is expected to formally adopt a landmark declaration, reaffirming the 141 signatory States' commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol, and encouraging other States - who will also be able to attend the meeting as observers - to accede to the Convention, so that it can become a truly universal instrument, allowing full co-operation between states on the often thorny issues that surround refugee movements.

The unusual gathering of so many key ministers and other high-level participants is also expected to make progress on a number of important elements of the Global Consulations process. These include:

  • Looking at ways to strengthen the implementation of the Convention and enhance its ability to cope with contemporary and future challenges;
  • Clarifying the distinct role of the refugee Convention in relation to much-needed emerging national and regional policies on other forms of migration, thereby removing some of the current confusion of these issues which has been very much to the detriment of states and of refugees themselves;
  • Improving responses to the huge refugee flows that have characterized the past decade;
  • Highlighting the importance of the 1951 Convention's so-called "Exclusion Clause" - which makes it clear that people guilty of serious crimes, including terrorism, are not eligible for refugee status.

The Global Consultations process - which has already encompassed a series of valuable meetings, spanning five continents, involving states, NGOs, academics, judges and other refugee experts - is now well-advanced on the path to one of its main goals: the formulation of an "Agenda for Protection" which aims to sharpen and strengthen the international system for protecting refugees, of which the 1951 Convention remains the key foundation stone, in the 21st century.

The global ministers' meeting will be followed immediately, on December 14, by a second meeting involving the ministers of African states which will focus on a number of Global Consultations issues that are particularly relevant to Africa, such as mass influx and how to better resolve the protracted refugees crises which continue to plague the continent.

On December 11, some 100 NGO's are expected to attend a preparatory meeting of their own prior to the main meeting. The importance of NGO and other expert input into the Global Consultations process cannot be overestimated.

As a reflection of its significance, the ministerial meeting it is taking place in the rarely-used main Assembly Room at the UN's Palais des Nations in Geneva - which is normally reserved solely for occasional meetings of the UN General Assembly.