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Conclusion on the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum

Executive Committee Meetings

Conclusion on the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum
No. 94 (LIII) - 2002

8 October 2002
Executive Commitee 53rd session. Contained in United Nations General Assembly document A/AC.96/973 and document no. 12A (A/57/12/Add.1)

The Executive Committee,

Remaining seriously concerned by the continuing occurrence of military or armed attacks and other threats to the security of refugees, including the infiltration and presence of armed elements in refugee camps and settlements,1

Recalling the relevant provisions of international refugee law, international human rights law and international humanitarian law,

Recalling its Conclusion No. 27 (XXXIII) and Conclusion No. 32 (XXXIV) on military attacks on refugee camps and settlements in Southern Africa and elsewhere; Conclusion 72 (XLIV) on personal security of refugees; Conclusion No. 48 (XXXVIII) on military or armed attacks on refugee camps and settlements; Conclusion No. 47 (XXXVIII) and Conclusion No. 84 (XLVII), on refugee children and adolescents, as well as Conclusion No. 64 (XLI) on refugee women and international protection,

Recalling also United Nations Security Council resolution S/RES/1208 (1998) and S/RES/1296 (2000), and the two reports of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict2, noting in particular the recommendations made therein with respect to enhancing the security of refugee camps and settlements,

Welcoming the discussion which took place on the civilian character of asylum in the context of the Global Consultations on International Protection,3

Noting that several international meetings have recently been held, aimed at identifying effective operational strategies for maintaining the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum,4

Reiterating that refugee camps and settlements should have an exclusively civilian and humanitarian character, that the grant of asylum is a peaceful and humanitarian act which should not be regarded as unfriendly by another State, as stated in the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa and a number of Executive Committee conclusions, and that all actors, including refugees themselves, have the obligation to cooperate in ensuring the peaceful and humanitarian character of refugee camps and settlements,

Recognizing that the presence of armed elements in refugee camps or settlements; recruitment and training by government armed forces or organized armed groups; the use of such camps, intended to accommodate refugee populations on purely humanitarian grounds, for the internment of prisoners of war; as well as other forms of exploitation of refugee situations for the purpose of promoting military objectives are likely to expose refugees, particularly women and children, to serious physical danger, inhibit the realization of durable solutions, in particular voluntary repatriation, but also local integration, jeopardize the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum and may threaten the national security of States, as well as inter-State relations,

Recognizing the special protection needs of refugee children and adolescents who, especially when living in camps where refugees are mixed with armed elements, are particularly vulnerable to recruitment by government armed forces or organized armed groups,

Reaffirming the importance of States, UNHCR and other relevant actors, integrating safety and security concerns from the outset of a refugee emergency into refugee camp management in a holistic manner,

(a) Acknowledges that host States have the primary responsibility to ensure the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum by, inter alia, making all efforts to locate refugee camps and settlements at a reasonable distance from the border, maintaining law and order, curtailing the flow of arms into refugee camps and settlements, preventing their use for the internment of prisoners of war, as well as through the disarmament of armed elements and the identification, separation and internment of combatants;

(b) Urges refugee-hosting States to respect the civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps by preventing their use for purposes which are incompatible with their civilian character;

(c) Recommends that action taken by States to ensure respect for the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum be guided, inter alia, by the following principles;

  • Respect for the right to seek asylum, and for the fundamental principle of non-refoulement, should be maintained at all times;
  • Measures for the disarmament of armed elements and the identification, separation and internment of combatants should be taken as early as possible, preferably at the point of entry or at the first reception/transit centres for new arrivals;
  • To facilitate early identification and separation of combatants, registration of new arrivals should be conducted by means of a careful screening process;
  • Refugee camps and settlements should benefit from adequate security arrangements to deter infiltration by armed elements and the strengthening of law and order;
  • Once identified, disarmed and separated from the refugee population, combatants should be interned at a safe location from the border;
  • Where the granting of refugee status is based on group determination, civilian family members of combatants should be treated as refugees and should not be interned together with them;
  • Combatants should not be considered as asylum-seekers until the authorities have established within a reasonable timeframe that they have genuinely and permanently renounced military activities, once this has been established, special procedures should be put in place for individual refugee status determination, to ensure that those seeking asylum fulfil the criteria for the recognition of refugee status, during the refugee status determination process, utmost attention should be paid to article 1F of the 1951 Convention, in order to avoid abuse of the asylum system by those who do not deserve international protection;
  • Former child soldiers should benefit from special protection and assistance measures, in particular as regards their demobilization and rehabilitation;
  • Where necessary, host States should develop, with assistance from UNHCR, operational guidelines in the context of group determination to exclude those individuals who are not deserving of international refugee protection; (d) Further to para (c)(ii) above, calls upon UNHCR to convene a meeting of experts in support of the elaboration of measures for the disarmament of armed elements and the identification, separation, and internment of combatants, including the clarification of relevant procedures and standards, in consultation with States, United Nations Secretariat entities and agencies, and interested organizations, such as the ICRC, and report back to the Executive Committee on progress achieved;

(e) Calls upon States to ensure that measures are taken to prevent the recruitment of refugees by government armed forces or organized armed groups, in particular of children, taking into account also that unaccompanied and separated children are even more vulnerable to recruitment than other children;

(f) Calls upon the relevant United Nations organs and regional organizations, in pursuance of their respective mandates, as well as the international community at large, to mobilize adequate resources to support and assist host States in maintaining the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum, in line with the principles of international solidarity, co-operation, burden and responsibility sharing;

(g) Calls upon UNHCR and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations of the United Nations Secretariat to enhance collaboration on all aspects of this complex matter, and as appropriate, to deploy, with the consent of host States, multi-disciplinary assessment teams to an emerging crisis area in order to clarify the situation on the ground, evaluate security threats for refugee populations and consider appropriate practical responses;

(h) Calls upon UNHCR to explore how it may develop, in consultation with relevant partners, its own institutional capacity to address insecurity in refugee camps, inter alia by assisting States to ensure the physical safety and dignity of refugees, building, as appropriate, upon its protection and operational expertise.

1 For the purpose of this Conclusion, the term "armed elements" is used as a generic term in a refugee context that refers to combatants as well as civilians carrying weapons. Similarly, for the purpose of this Conclusion, the term "combatants" covers persons taking active part in hostilities in both international and non-international armed conflict who have entered a country of asylum.

2 S/1999/957; S/2001/331.

3 EC/GC/01/8/Rev.1.

4 Workshop on the Potential of International Police in Refugee Camp Security (Ottawa, Canada, March 2001); Regional Symposium on Maintaining the Civilian and Humanitarian Character of Refugee Status, Camps and other locations (Pretoria, South Africa, February 2001); International Seminar on Exploring the Role of the Military in Refugee Camp Security (Oxford, UK, July 2001).