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UNHCR News Comment on the importance of the International Refugee Convention

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UNHCR News Comment on the importance of the International Refugee Convention

26 September 2023

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has taken note of the speech delivered by the UK Home Secretary in Washington today, in which she raised a number of questions regarding the role of the Refugee Convention in the context of today’s global displacement challenges.

The Refugee Convention is the cornerstone of the international refugee protection regime and remains a life-saving instrument that ensures millions of people fleeing conflict and persecution each year can access safety and protection across borders. There are 35.3 million refugees worldwide, with 70 per cent remaining in countries neighbouring their own and 76 per cent hosted in low- and middle-income countries.

UNHCR recognises the complex challenges presented by the irregular movement of refugees across and beyond their regions of origin, often together with migrants moving for other reasons. The Refugee Convention remains as relevant today as when it was adopted in providing an indispensable framework for addressing those challenges, based on international cooperation.

Where individuals are at risk of persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, it is crucial that they are able to seek safety and protection. The Refugee Convention has been widely recognised as capable of providing protection to these groups, amongst others.

The need is not for reform, or more restrictive interpretation, but for stronger and more consistent application of the Convention and its underlying principle of responsibility-sharing. 

An appropriate response to the increase in arrivals and to the UK’s current asylum backlog would include strengthening and expediting decision-making procedures. This would accelerate the integration of those found to be refugees and facilitate the swift return of those who have no legal basis to stay. UNHCR has presented the UK Government with concrete and actionable proposals in this regard and continues to support constructive, ongoing efforts to clear the current asylum backlog.

UNHCR also welcomes the UK’s enhanced dialogue with its European neighbours and encourages efforts to enhance regional cooperation to address current challenges. Expanding safe, regular pathways for refugees to travel to the UK would also offer real alternatives to dangerous, irregular journeys.

UNHCR will continue to engage in discussions with the UK, which remains a valuable and long-standing partner to UNHCR, in order to find practical ways forward in line with its international commitments. We urge the UK to join global efforts to find innovative and joined-up solutions, including through the upcoming Global Refugee Forum, in the same spirit of multilateralism and humanitarianism with which it helped bring the Refugee Convention into being.

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