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Note on International Protection (Submitted by the High Commissioner)

Executive Committee Meetings

Note on International Protection (Submitted by the High Commissioner)

10 September 1969


1. Detailed information on developments In the field of international protection for the year ending 31 March 1969 has been included in the High Commissioner's report to the forty-seventh session of the Economic and Social Council and to the twenty-fourth session of the General Assembly (E/4677).

2. This Note is submitted in accordance with the wish expressed by the Executive Committee that the question of international protection be considered by the Committee each year. It is concerned mainly with some of the more significant general developments and problems which may be of special interest to the Committee.

International instruments relating to the status of refugees

3. The High Commissioner continues his endeavours to promote accession to various international instruments for the protection of refugees and in particular the 1951 Convention on the Statute of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. Fifty-six States are now parties to the 1951 Convention. Since the nineteenth session of the Executive Committee Botswana, Finland and Canada, have acceded to the Convention, and thirteen countries, namely, the United Kingdom, Tanzania, Finland, Tunisia, Ghana, the United States of America, Swaziland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Botswana, Ecuador, Belgium and Canada, have acceded to the 1967 Protocol bringing the number of parties to the Protocol to thirty-three. A significant development has been the withdrawal by several countries of some of the reservations made by them when ratifying or acceding to the Convention. In resolution 2294 (XXII) the General Assembly urged those states which have not yet done so to accede to the Convention and Protocol. The International Conference on Human Rights, held in Tehran, likewise called upon governments to accede to these international instruments. A similar recommendation is contained in the preamble to the draft OAU Convention relating to certain aspects of refugee problems in Africa, adopted by the Council of Ministers of the Organization of African Unity in February this year.

Further recognition of the principles relating to asylum and non-refoulement

4. After the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on Territorial Asylum in December 1967, the question of asylum and non-refoulement has continued to receive the attention of international bodies on the universal and regional levels. The most important new development in this field was the inclusion in the draft OAU Refugee Convention referred to above of provisions relating to asylum and non-refoulement of refugees in terms similar to those of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Asylum. With the adoption of the Convention by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU these principles will take the character of contractual obligations between member states which become parties to it.

Measures in the legal field to enable refugees to cease to be refugees

5. In accordance with the task entrusted to the High Commissioner under his Statute "to promote measures calculated to reduce the number of refugees requiring protection" the High Commissioner remained in contact with governments with regard to voluntary repatriation and the naturalization of refugees.

6. With respect to repatriation he assisted refugees in overcoming technical and financial difficulties which prevented their return to their home country. The High Commissioner has also welcomed measures taken by States to enable their nationals abroad to regularize their position by the granting or extension of passports through their consular representatives.

7. In the field of naturalization the High Commissioner, through his Branch Offices in various countries, has encouraged measures to facilitate the acquisition of a new nationality by those refugees for whom repatriation has not proved feasible.

The legal status of refugees in their country of asylum.

8. It is essential to ensure that a refugee enjoys adequate legal status pending the acquisition of a new nationality. The minimum standard for this status is defined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Refugee Protocol. The High Commissioner attaches great importance to the implementation of the provisions of these instruments through appropriate legislative or administrative measures, particularly by those countries which have only recently become parties to it.

9. In accordance with the High Commissioner's responsibility for supervising the application of these two basic instruments, and having received the support of the Committee for his proposals to establish a plan to facilitate the follow-up of the implementation of these two instruments, UNHCR, after further consultations with the International Labour Office, has drafted standard questionnaires relating to the most important provisions of the Convention and the Protocol. These questionnaires, which will shortly be submitted to governments parties to the Convention, will no doubt facilitate the governments' duty, under Articles 35 and 36 of the Convention. and Articles II and III of the Protocol to report on the implementation of these two instruments and will also enable the High Commissioner to fulfil his supervisory tasks under the Statute.

Special aspects of international protection of refugees in Africa

10. At its nineteenth session the Committee was informed of developments showing the growing importance of UNHCR protection activities in areas where refugee problems have arisen during more recent years, particularly in Africa. This general trend has continued during the period under review, and it has become increasingly evident that the granting of a satisfactory legal status to refugees is not only called for from the point of view of human rights, but is also a prerequisite for the solution of refugee problems through local integration or resettlement.

11. In Africa, the number of states parties to the main refugee instruments has increased and the High Commissioner hopes that further states will accede in the near future. Beyond this there is the problem of the implementation of the provisions of these instruments through legislative or administrative measures. In a number of African states, admission, residence and employment of aliens is based principally on immigration legislation enacted at a time when no refugee problems existed in that area. This has given rise to a number of problems concerning the status and the movement of refugees and has thus disclosed the need for adapting the present legislation to take account of the relevant universal and regional instruments.

12. In this connexion, the High Commissioner welcomes the adoption in September 1969, by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU, of the OAU Convention governing the specific aspects of the problem of refugees in Africa. This Convention, while endorsing the principles embodied in the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, regulates certain specific matters arising in the African context with regard to asylum, voluntary repatriation, travel documents and subversive activities. The draft Convention is to be considered again by the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government at their September session this year with a view to final adoption.

13. Apart from the general problems in Africa mentioned above, the Office has been called upon to deal with an increasing number of cases of individual African refugees who, for various reasons, cannot benefit from rural settlement programmes and whose integration in their country of asylum in other African countries or elsewhere creates additional protection problems. Similar difficulties frequently arise with regard to African students of whom a large number are in countries outside Africa.

14. These various developments inevitably involve a widening in the scope and intensity of the international protection activities of the Office. The High Commissioner was, therefore, greatly encouraged by the support given to him in this connexion by the Executive Committee at its nineteenth session.