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BRIEFING paper

High commissioner for refugees

APRIL | 4 - 7 | 2013 | NATHAN CAMPUS | GRIFFITH UNIVERSITY

BRISBANE MODEL UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE


//INTRODUCTION TO HCR “Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world.” – Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 2011 The High Commissioner for Refugees is mandated to protect and support refugees, as well as raising awareness of the challenges and issues they face. BrizMUN’s HCR will discuss the question of guidelines to better manage large numbers of refugees. In the year 2012 there were more than 30 million “people of concern” to the HCR, a number that includes refugees, asylum seekers and internally-displaced persons. It is estimated that a further 25 million could, if the Refugee Convention allowed, currently be classified as “environmental refugees”. The UN has previously estimated that between 200 million and 1 billion people would be displaced in the next 40 years due to climate change. While those numbers are now in doubt, it does raise the question, how would the international community deal with such an influx of refugees in accordance with international law? What improvements can be made to the referral system to ensure that, in a crisis, the international community can be quick to act? And how do country’s differing stances on refugees limit the efficiency with which such action can be taken?

//THE CONVENTION AND PROTOCOL The 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees defines the term ‘refugee’ as any 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. (Article 1A(2))” The 1967 Protocol extends this definition to include persons who have fled war or other violence.

help to avoid friction between States with regard to refugee issues, and help UNHCR to mobilize international support for the refugees (UNHCR, 2011b). International human rights laws and regional instruments, such as those in effect in Africa, the EU and Latin America, supplement the convention and help to provide uniform approaches to dealing with refugees in these regions. States Parties are required to work with UNHCR and provide UNHCR with information and statistical data regarding their treatment of refugees (Article 35) and laws created to address the Convention (Articles 35-36). While these instruments are supposed to encourage uniform treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, there may be great differences in treatment and recognition within these regions, as well as between different regions. Delegates at BrizMUN’s HCR may wish to discuss international approaches to refugees and asylum seekers, with the intention of introducing ‘best-policy’ guidelines for States to follow in recognizing and providing for refugees.

//NEW CATEGORIES FOR REFUGEES According to the present definition, a refugee is someone who is forced to flee due to the threat of prosecution and who does not have access to the protection of their own government. At present, people who leave their country or are otherwise displaced for reasons other than war or persecution are considered to be migrants rather than refugees or asylum seekers, and may be deemed illegal immigrants, if they enter other countries irregularly. The reasons these people may flee include environmental (including food security and safety, extreme weather events and slow-onset changes) or economic reasons, or in escaping slavery. The key point, however, is that their migration cannot be considered voluntary; yet they do not qualify for the international protection afforded to refugees. Delegates at BrizMUN’s HCR may wish to consider if these deficiencies should be addressed by the Convention, and if so, how they should be addressed.

The Convention also sets out the legal protections and rights due to refugees and, to some degree, asylum seekers not yet recognised as refugees.

//DEALING WITH REFUGEE INFLUXES

Accession to the Convention and Protocol should

At present, the identification of an asylum seeker as a refugee is determined by the government of


the host country. Approaches to such identification may be on a group or individual basis, and asylum seekers may face detention until a decision is reached. The UNHCR stipulates that cases of individual assessment must be fair and efficient, and recommends the designation of a central authority to be responsible for assessing applications. In cases of large influxes of asylum seekers, very few States would have the facilities in place to assess the applications that would be received, let alone have the available resources to accommodate a large number of refugees as per their responsibilities according to the Convention. A truly international response is likely to be needed to deal with large numbers of refugees. Delegates of BrizMUN’s HCR should determine the best possible response of the international community to deal with large numbers of refugees, and perhaps the crises causing such influxes, to ensure vulnerable people are not left without the protection of international law.

//CONSIDERING THE PRESENT SYSTEM Refugees fleeing war or persecution are often in a very vulnerable situation. They risk their basic rights, security, and receive no protection from their own government. The protection of these stateless people is the core mandate of the UNHCR. The organization concerns itself with matters of human rights to caring for basic needs of refugees. Effective international protection mechanisms such as legislation are important to the process pending asylum claims. There is also an absence of good programs and capacity to successfully implement them due to insufficient resources, which results in the lack of access to fair procedures for refugee status determination and the excessive recourse to detention. In Norway and Mexico, a grant of asylum generally provides the legal basis for a permanent legal status and the possibility of local integration including naturalization. However, international protection does not always guarantee systematic access to long-term protection. In Nigeria, refugee status implies the right to remain until a durable solution is found or refugee status is cancelled. In practice, recognized refugees remain in Nigeria for years without access to a durable solution. In South Africa, grants of asylum are, in theory, reviewed after two years and can be retracted if conditions in the country of origin are deemed to have improved sufficiently. In practice, periodic reviews are delayed due to the backlog of cases. Due to the absence of formal asylum procedures in Thailand, refugees

recognized by UNHCR are still technically considered ‘illegal’ and may be subject to arrest by the police and detention at immigration detention centres. The principle of non-refoulement is said to be critical in achieving international protection. The humanitarian evacuations from Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011 allowed migrants to return to their countries of origin, while opening up protection space for those unable to do so. Although most countries have or are in the process of implementing a national trafficking protection system, the competency of these referral agencies have been found to be ad hoc at best. Only in Norway is the option of applying for international protection routinely explained to trafficked persons as part of the free legal aid service provided for all identified trafficked persons. National trafficking protection systems are also rarely connected with the asylum procedure. As a result, trafficking protection and asylum systems remain completely separate in many countries where both systems exist. Countries such as Thailand and Israel without domestic asylum legislation considers all people who cross the border without authorization to be irregular migrants, irrespective of their circumstances. They tend to treat asylum and trafficked persons like migrant workers because they do not verify potential international protection needs. On the other hand, countries like Italy, Israel and Nigeria have established a system of short-term protection on both humanitarian grounds and an order to improve criminal law enforcement whereby temporary visas are issued regardless of whether or not the person of concern decides to cooperate with the authorities. Delegates could possibly negotiate for the adoption of a more comprehensive approach to the issue, using and combing different bodies in the legal framework. For example, making fuller use of the Courts to enhance refugee protection. Important innovations are also taking place in individual donor countries, largely motivated by increased awareness of the changing dynamics of the global refugee population. For example, Canada has established an Inter-departmental Working Group on Protracted Refugee Situations and developed a ‘whole-of-government’ response. Delegates may explore the idea of developing programs to improve living conditions for refugees. In particular, increasing accessions to the Convention, identifying good practices such as the transposition of relevant norms into national law or national efforts


to generate political will and initiatives on solutions, or facilitating referrals from the international protection system to a domestic protection system in further consideration of the enormous backlog in processing asylum applications. The scale and dimensions of the movement of refugees across the globe today requires an urgent response. The UNHCR plays a catalytic role on the engagement needed by international development agencies. The investments needed are substantial, and there is a need to strengthen inter-government and agency cooperation. Countries should look forward to securing pledges that will be translated into action.

//BIBLIOGRAPHY 50 million ‘environmental refugees’ by 2020, experts say. (2011, February 22). The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh. com.au/environment/climate-change/50-millionenvironmental-refugees-by2020-experts-say20110222-1b31i.html. Environmental migrant. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_ migrant. Environmental refugees. (2012, July 16). La Trobe University News. Retrieved from http://www.latrobe. edu.au/news/articles/2012/article/environmentalrefugees. Refugee. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refugee. Refugee law (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refugee_law. UNHCR. (2011a). Convention and protocol relating to the status of refugees. Retrieved from http://www. unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html. UNHCR. (2011b). The 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees and its 1967 protocol. Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/4ec262df9.html. UNHCR (2011) http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/ pdfid/4ad317bc2.pdf UNHCR (2011) http://www. unhcr.org/refworld/pdfid/49997af7d.pdf

Briefing Paper: High Commissioner for Refugees  

Briefing Paper: High Commissioner for Refugees BrizMUN 2013

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