Wednesday, November 9, 2016

9:57:00 PM - No comments

The ‘problem’ of the Refugee

The latest figures on the number of refugees in the world according to UNHRC sources stands at 21.3 million. Out of that number 16.1 million is within the UNHRC mandate. There are 65.3 million people worldwide who are forcibly displaced. 54% of the refugees have come from Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria and the countries that host a majority of the refugees in the world is in the Middle East and North African regions. Ironically Europe only hosts 6% of the refugees. This is currently the chaotic state of affairs in the global system.

"Women and girls are among the most vulnerable groups of refugees because when they flee persecution in their countries through dangerous routes they are more susceptible to sexual abuses" 

Who is a refugee?

Article 1 of the 1951 convention on the Refugee provides an elaborate definition of who a refugee is. It is someone who flees one’s own country for fear of being persecuted. However, it is ultimately up to the hosting state to determine the status of the refugee, asylum seeker or economic migrant. It is important to understand that each of these groups is distinctive but providing a working definition for each has been difficult and confusing. This is because affirming the status of a refugee is politically rigged.

In November 2002, all claims for asylum to the UK from countries which were at the time acceding to the EU were rejected but from May 2004 onwards nationals from those same countries could enter the UK as citizens of the EU. According to this example a national from one of those countries who sent in an application before May was an Asylum seeker and a national from the same country who applied after the deadline in May was an EU citizen. This example shows the difficulty as mentioned above in providing a proper definition of a refugee.

The most important right that refugees have under the 1951 convention is the principle of nonrefoulement. It asserts that a refugee may not be returned to their country where they are faced with a threat to life. This has also become part of customary international law. They are also entitled to employment rights, housing rights, education and religious rights among various others. The refugee too has a set of obligations towards the host state as per Article 2 of the convention whereby the refugee must abide by the laws and regulations of the host state.

Why has this become a ‘problem’?

The figures mentioned at the debut of the article suggests that a majority of the refugees are hosted in the developing countries and there is a disproportionate burden on them. There is a lack of support from developed rich countries to accommodate refugees. The result is that developing countries continue to be stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty due to the influx of refugees into already plummeted populations. 

The question that must be raised is why these rich countries are reluctant to accommodate refugees. Tuitt provides an analysis that there are internal and external costs incurred by states with regards to administration of the refugee. Significant amounts of money must be allocated to regulate refugees and they also alter the cultural and political dimensions in the states they seek refugee status. Due to these issues states would much rather ‘problematize’ the refugee than provide them with solutions and accommodation.

Tuitt observes that international law of refugee status is a product of European political culture which is resistant to expansive ideologies concerning protection of refugees. This makes me backtrack into the very definition of the refugee in the 1951 convention which sets temporal and geographical limits to who is a refugee which was later removed by the 1967 protocol. Refugees cannot be limited to the events that occurred before January 1st 1951 because since then terrorism, elective dictatorships, and military juntas have caused people to flee their countries. The major reasons Syrians flee their homeland include fear of political persecution of President Assad’s dictatorship, internal instability within Syria due to the rise of the ISIS.

How is the ‘problem’ aggravated?

The status of the refugee, asylum seeker, economic migrant and immigrants in general has greatly altered due to anti-globalization sentiment that is spread around the world. ‘Brexit’ and the US presidential elections are an example. Waves of nationalism and spread of unreasonable fear towards immigrants through islamophobia and hateful rhetoric has taken over the most powerful countries in the world. UK has decided to stand against regional integration, France is increasingly hostile towards Muslims and Donald Trump has added to this growing fear.

Donald Trump has a terrifying foreign policy that includes closing borders to immigrants and asylum seekers from countries that sponsor terrorism. He also says that USA will remove troops from the NATO if the other allies do not contribute equally. Trump attempts to shift the focus of NATO from Russian deterrence towards combatting the ISIS and dealing with migration issues. Combatting the ISIS with help from Russia sounds a plausible plan but Russia is not a US ally and history has taught many lessons on how appeasing an enemy can have detrimental effects like how the British appeased Nazi Germany. Russian activity in the countries of the former Yugoslavia has to be monitored to prevent Russian aggression.

During the bush administration after 9/11 attacks, there was growing fear of immigrants and every Muslim was feared to be a terrorist. That environment of fear and panic had detrimental effects on human rights discourses around the world. There were people arrested on suspicion and was denied the right to a fair trial among other civil and political rights that were violated. Trump and Nigel Farrage are not on the right track towards handling issues of global migration through their anti-globalization sentiment and fear campaigns. These dangerous tendencies will only ‘problematize’ the refugee and other types of migrants further. Lessons must be learned from Political leaders such as Angela Merkel who has respect for article 51 of the refugee convention. If developed rich countries do not respond towards migration issues in a positive approach, the numbers mentioned above of stateless persons and refugees shall increase.