Rohingyas. Palestinians. Iraqis. Afghans. Lebanese. Jewish. Sri Lankan Tamils.
A minute snapshot of those who have longed, or those who are longing
The international refugee protection regime...can be characterised as one that is...in a state of crisis.’
The 1951 Refugee Convention constitutes the linchpin of international refugee protection and confers refugee status to individuals owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of particular social group or political opinion, who is outside their country of nationality and is unable or owing to such fear unwilling to return to it. This Convention has been described as the ‘universal instrument that has protected tens of millions of refugees, in all parts of the world, over the last half century.’ So why is it now been described as in a ‘state of crisis’?
Fulfilling the criteria of the Convention qualifies an individual to legal refugee status and entitlement to the rights attached to this status; including rights to employment, housing, education, social security and travel documents.
However, in an increasingly globalised world, rationales behind migration are varied thus leaving some asylum seekers fleeing the most serious threats to their basic human rights- unprotected by the Convention.
It is as a result of the protection gaps of the Convention such as its inability to protect individuals suffering incidents of serious harm or acts by non- state agents that the notion of ‘complementary protection’ has been born; a level of protection extended to individuals unaddressed by the Convention. A concept rooted in the basic human rights principle of non-refoulement; commanding that states cannot return asylum seekers to situations of persecution. ‘Complementary protection’ is sugar coated in the fact that states are obligated to give way to the fundamental human rights principle of non-refoulement. However, history dictates that obligating states to abide by any of their human rights duties is no easy task.
For the ‘humanitarian’ status of complementary protection to be granted, states must first acknowledge an international protection need- which unsurprisingly they are reluctant to do, with state sovereignty being their primary concern. Beyond the issue of states refusing to acknowledge when a complementary protection case exists, yet another significant problem remains of the status (or lack of) conferred to individuals under this form of protection. Unlike refugee status, individuals under complementary protection have very few if any rights at all. More worryingly, state practice on complementary protection differs widely. It is therefore inevitable that individuals facing the same level of persecution are being afforded incomparable levels of protection depending on their host states. This is clearly a violation of the rule of law rhetoric that our global leaders repeatedly espouse, championing so called equality of the law. The case of Greece exemplifies the stark issues with this area of international protection. Greek law recognises no right for humanitarian status; rather the decision rests with the discretion of administrative decision makers. This is another example of how the fate of the vulnerable rests in the hands of self -absorbed politicians.
Although the human rights underlying rationale to complementary protection is admirable in attempting to fill the gaps of the 1951 Convention, it is no doubt that states in fact have their own national interests at heart; hence not substantiating complementary status to that of Convention refugee status. It is due to the lack of certainty that complementary protection creates that demands harmonisation in order to adequately address growing international protection demands. How realistic this is in light of a hostile impartialist international attitude towards the protection crisis is another problem. One may argue that complementary protection is better than nothing. However, in simply establishing what is effectively an empty status which actually confers very little protection seems pointless.
Surely refugee protection is a responsibility of the international community, the same international community which has created and continues to perpetuate the refugee crisis with its civil unrest, conflicts and wars instigated by self-interested and protectionist motives?
The future of the international protection challenge I submit vests in the voice of people, to engage and rise up against these injustices and to campaign for change. However, this can only be achieved when the myths surrounding the refugee and asylum seeker have been dispelled.
The non-integrationist alien that our newspapers tell us is a terrorist, job-thieving, live-off-the-state sponge is rather a by-product of the failure of our world leaders in maintaining a world of peace and security, where innocent bloodshed, war, hurt and pain prevails no more.
They are simply individuals longing to belong.