In the European Union you are confronted nearly every day with news about refugees, risking their lives trying to reach Europe illegally. However, such events have become so common that they rarely make it to the headlines any more. But in the briefing held by Mr. Brian Gorlick, we learned that the global refugee situation is worsening.
As he was aware that we were going to represent Bangladesh at HNMUN 2006, Mr. Gorlick started his presentation with the sad fact that except for Afghanistan no South-Asian country is party to either the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or to the (additional) Protocol.
The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is a key legal document: it defines the term ‘refugee’, refugees’ rights and the legal obligations of states. It was approved at a special United Nations Conference in Geneva, Switzerland on 28 July 1951 and entered into force on 22 April 1954. The Convention was initially supposed to protect European refugees after World War II but the 1967 Protocol, which entered into force on 4 October of the same year, expanded the Convention's scope. Today, there are 146 signatories to either or both the Convention and Protocol.
What actually is a refugee and where is the difference to an asylum seeker? According to the 1951 Convention, a refugee is a person outside the country of their nationality due to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, political opinion, ethnic origin or the membership of a particular social group. And unless migrants are not “stamped” a refugee by UNHCR, a government or another UN agency, their status is “asylum seeker”.
UNHCR’s mandate as it is written down in the Statute (UN General Assembly resolution 428 establishing the High Commissioner’s Office for Refugees as of 1 January 1951) is to provide international protection to refugees worldwide and to seek permanent solutions to refugee problems. International protection includes admission to safety, non-refoulement (Art. 33) and physical security. Durable solutions to refugee problems are assistance to voluntary repatriation with humanity and dignity, local settlement or resettlement in a third country. Unfortunately, while refugees often prefer the last solution, there are still too few countries willing to host these people permanently. The statute is criticized by many as being old-fashioned, but according to Mr. Gorlick it is still valid. However, certain regional legal instruments, such as the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa or the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees for Latin America are more generous than the UN Convention, although the contracting states are quite poor.
To illustrate the theoretical part of his presentation, Mr. Gorlick used figures and numbers. At the beginning of 2005, the number of people of concern to UNHCR was 19.2 million. They included 9.2 million refugees (48%) and 5.6 million internally displaced persons (29%). The budget of UNHCR is about US$ 1.3 billion (~1 billion from governments). Worldwide, US$ 8-17 billion are used for development. In contrast: the world’s military expenses are about US$ 750 billion!!!
With these excellently placed illustrations and his very vivid way of speaking, he directly caught everybody’s attention. By looking at the faces of my fellow students, I realized that Mr. Gorlick definitively succeeded in bringing the serious problem of the global refugee situation to our minds.