A refugee Agenda for Protection
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by so many nations was particularly important at a time when the Convention has been increasingly criticized as outdated and in the wake of the September attacks in the United States which helped prompt rising xenophobia, and in many countries tougher anti-terrorism and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.