I’ve recently argued a case under the UN refugee convention so find myself reflecting on the current tragedy with rather more than a humanitarian perspective. The UK was one of the original signatories to the convention along with Australia, Austria, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Turkey, the former Yugoslavia and others.
The convention defines a refugee as a person who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
The core principles which we collectively embraced are that refugees shall:
- not be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, religion or country of origin;
- not be penalised for illegal entry and stay;
- not be subject to arbitrary detention;
- not be involuntarily expelled to a territory where the refugee fears for his or her life or freedom;
- be free to practice their religion and educate their children in it;
- be afforded access to the courts of the host nation;
- have access to primary education, work and state benefits (on a par with benefits granted to nationals of the host country).
We also specifically acknowledged “that the unity of the family, the natural and fundamental group unit of society, is an essential right of the refugee” and recommended “that Governments continue to receive refugees in their territories and that they act in concert in a true spirit of international co-operation in order that these refugees may find asylum and the possibility of resettlement.
Of course the world has changed out of all recognition in the last 63 years. The convention was formally adopted in Geneva on 25 July 1951 in the context of a Europe in which many economies were almost bankrupt, parts of some national infrastructures had, literally, been smashed to pieces, hundreds of thousands of homes had been destroyed and millions of people had been displaced.
Food for thought.