First-ever ministerial level meeting of all the signatory States to Refugee Convention set for next week
GENEVA, Dec. 4 (UNHCR) - Next week's first ever ministerial-level meeting of the 142 States that signed the 1951 Refugee Convention is expected to chart the future of refugee protection as migration flows become more complex and asylum seekers find themselves entangled in domestic and international political debates.
More than 80 ministers are expected to attend the meeting in Geneva, which will also include several countries who have not signed the Convention as well as international organisations, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The two-day conference will be followed by a special session devoted to refugee problems in Africa.
Numerous non-governmental organisations, three deputy prime ministers, and the President of Latvia, Ms. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, will also be present. Ms. Vike-Freiberga, who will deliver one of the opening addresses, is attending in a personal capacity as a former refugee.
High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers recently called the upcoming session "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."
The conference, which will be attended by at least 29 Interior and 17 Foreign Ministers, is expected to formally adopt a landmark declaration reaffirming the commitment by the signatory States to effective implementation of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol.
It is also expected to look at ways of highlighting the importance of the document's "exclusion clause," making those guilty of serious crimes, including terrorism, ineligible for refugee status. The delegates will seek ways of improving responses to the huge refugee flows of the past decade and will try to clarify the Convention's role in emerging national and regional policies on other forms of migration.
In a statement last October, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it was "particularly concerned" about the impact of the September 11 attacks on those in need of protection by the international community. The agency listed ten areas of concern, including the threat of increased racism and xenophobia.
"Even before the tragic events of September 11, asylum seekers faced increasingly difficult obstacles in a number of countries," the statement said. It added the obstacles included gaining access to asylum procedures or overcoming presumptions about the validity of their claims due to their ethnicity.
"It is also crucial that states understand that the 1951 Refugee Convention does not provide a safe haven to terrorists, nor does it protect them from criminal prosecution," the statement added. "On the contrary, the Convention is carefully framed to exclude persons committed particularly serious crimes."
The meeting, which is being hosted by UNHCR and the Swiss government, marks the end of the first phase of a wide-ranging process called Global Consultations on International Protection launched at the end of last year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention.