Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Refugee Convention

UNHCR Article

Please click on the above to read the full Article from UNHCR.

As you will note yesterday marked the 60th Anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the 1951 Convention). For those of you that don’t know, the 1951 Convention was adopted on the 28th July 1951 to resolve the refugee problem in Europe after World War Two. It provides a clear definition of who will be regarded as a refugee – a person with a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, member of a particular social group or political opinion. The treaty is still followed today.

UNHCR state that the Convention has helped millions of people restart their lives in the last 60 years, and that it has survived, adapted and endured through many challenging times. It provides the essential framework for the protection of people fleeing persecution.

Whilst conducting research to write this blog I came across the following quote and it got me thinking:

“The situation has changed beyond recognition since the Refugee Convention was signed 60 years ago. There is now widespread abuse. Over half of all applicants in the UK only claim when detected. Nearly two thirds (60%) of all cases decided in the last five years were rejected after a long and expensive legal process but less than half of them are being removed. Those, like ourselves, who are serious about genuine refugees must be equally serious about removing asylum seekers who turn out to be bogus if public support for the system is to be sustained.”

Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of Migration Watch UK.

I do not know whether the statistics quoted are correct but it got me thinking about whether the 1951 Convention could be viewed as out of date and in need of updating. I am aware of the importance of protecting refugees world wide, but you have to admit that Sir Green has a point; the situation globally for refugees has changed dramatically since 1951.

The Convention was drafted sixty years ago. Some may argue that it is not equipped to deal with the challenges of today. For example, is the 1951 Convention flexible enough to deal with gender based persecution?  Is it suitable to deal with the world of terrorism and organised crime which simply did not exist at the time of its creation?

Many would also argue that Human Rights law has developed drastically in recent years, and the European Convention of Human Rights would prevent a person being removed from the UK if their life would be at risk. The 1951 Convention could be classed as redundent if Human Rights law prevent s person being removed from the UK anyway. Does the European Convention of Human Rights arguably not provide protection to people fleeing their country in fear of persecution?

Refugee law and Human Rights law are complex areas, and perhaps they both need to be considered side by side when assessing as to whether a person is at risk. The 1951 Convention does provide a legal framework for the protection of refugees which many do consider essential. But there may be an argument that it is in need of updating to suit modern times.

It would be interesting to hear your comments on this area. Do you agree with Sir Green, and think that the process for dealing with refugees in the UK needs to be changed?