Asylum seekers and refugees ~ Fifty years on
A British former Home Secretary, Jack Straw, commented in 1999 that the 1951 Covenant ‘is no longer working as its framers intended’. He had in mind, so he said, the mass flows in the contemporary world from almost every continent and the sheer impossibility of dealing adequately with those internally displaced, with those traumatised in transit, and with illegal immigrants crossing the English Channel. A worrying concern to governments such as his own is the circumstance where intending asylum seekers construct a plea for protection and cast around to see which state is likely to consider their claim for refugee status. Inevitably, the business of processing claims, by any government, becomes complex, costly and subject to much delay and uncertainty. Unfortunately, in the flood of immigration and the inevitable processing queues, there may be scant agreement as to designation, appropriate treatment and destination of applicants. Refugees may spend some time, as it were, ‘in orbit’, knocking on closing doors.
Another recent view of the 1951 Convention is that of Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, speaking in 2002 to the House of Commons in response to questions about his country’s legislation apropos asylum seekers. ‘The values of the Convention are timeless’, he declared, yet it was now time, ‘to stand back and consider its application in today’s world’. He must have had in mind the controversy over what has been called in some liberal quarters, ‘an eclectic mix of cultures’. His questioners in the Commons, according to Parliamentary reports, were clearly probing the problems of asylum seeker admittance and reception in a world where borders were closing, legal barriers erected, quotas imposed. A refugee today may be asking for legitimate sanctuary elsewhere than in a country torn apart by militias, separatist rebels, paramilitary bands, bandits, mafia and irresolute governments. Who is to say what persecution means in such places and whether or not it is ‘well-founded’?
The following chapter will move from definition and theoretical positions to the field of active, progressive dealing with problem people. Fifty-three years after the Convention was written, the contemporary world is full of enormous challenges, hopes and fears. Constructive action for fairness and victim relief is happening all the time and we would do well to keep in mind the basic vulnerability of both the refugee and the would-be protector. The point was nicely made in December 2001 in Geneva by Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of Latvia, herself a refugee in the immediate post-war years: she was speaking at a ministerial meeting to consider the 1951 Convention and its Protocol.
No one leaves their home willingly or gladly…it means that there is something deeply wrong with the circumstances in their country. And we should never take lightly this plight of refugees fleeing across borders. They are signs, they are symptoms, they are proof that something is very wrong somewhere on the international scene… And I like to think that I stand here today as a survivor who speaks for all those who died by the roadside… And for all those millions across the world today who do not
have a voice, who cannot be heard. They are also human beings, they also suffer, they also have their hopes, their dreams and their aspirations. Most of all they dream of a normal life.
I entreat you…when you think about the problem of refugees to think of them not in the abstract. Do not think of them in the bureaucratic language of ‘decisions’ and ‘declarations’ and ‘priorities’… I entreat you, think of the human beings who are touched by your decisions. Think of the lives who wait on your help.
Book International Law that use in this reference :
David J, Whittaker, 2006. Asylum seekers and refugees in the contemporary World. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group: London and New York
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Labels: International Law