World’s refugees need a new protection regime
2015-09-15 15:57:53 -

Tarig Yousif


Like many others, I was appalled and flabbergasted while watching the harrowing scenes at the ‘Jungle’ make-shift camp at the port of Calais in northern France, and the shocking conditions of refugees trying to reach Germany via Hungary.


These events unfolding across Europe are another stark reminder of the desperate need for a fairer alternative to the Euro-centric refugee protection regime. Indeed, what is occurring in the heartland of Europe is tantamount to sounding the death knell of such laws as the Dublin Regulation in Europe, the birthplace of what has become known as human rights.


Europe is often portrayed as being ‘at war’ with what are termed ‘illegal migrants’, many of whom have survived a perilous journey across the Mediterranean on board traffickers’ unseaworthy ships. This is another aide memoire that the phenomenon of forced migration, which has reached unparalleled proportions over the last few years, needs a drastic and a robust action.


The onslaught in Syria, which has been ongoing since 2011; the slide of Libya into anarchy in the aftermath of the capture and killing of Gadaffi in October 2011; and human rights violations in many parts of the globe – all have forced desperate victims to end up in places like Calais and Hungary.



A boon, not a burden


The EU countries could have saved those forced migrants their suffering had they replicated the quota system they used in the past when Europe was confronted with a similar refugee crisis during the Bosnian war (1992-1995). Around half a million Bosnian refugees were distributed among the EU countries; Germany alone received over 300,000 refugees from Bosnia. Not only did Europe give sanctuary to the war victims from Bosnia, but it also helped ending the Bosnian War through Nato air strikes which paved the way to the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995.


Germany, which has the lowest unemployment rate in Europe at less than five per cent, needs foreigners to keep its robust economy going. In this sense, industrious Syrian refugees are a boon, not a burden, to the labour-hungry German economy.


From the perspective of the international refugee law, the treatment of those encamped in Calais – most of whom have fled countries riddled by civil wars and blatant human rights violations, amounts to violating – 1951 UN Refugee Convention, Article 33.1 of which says: “No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened…”


Needless to say, the significance of this article is that it is meant to be a safeguard against forcible deportation and a guarantee against expulsion while asylum claims are being processed. In the case of Calais, we are confronted with an egregious situation; asylum seekers are apparently not allowed to apply for refugee status in France, and Britain is unwilling to allow open its borders for those who are desperately seeking protection. And this in spite of both being parties to the convention.




As for the reaction of the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, to the Calais catastrophe, an August press briefing said it “remains concerned at the dire living and reception conditions in the makeshift sites around Calais. We encourage the French authorities to gradually relocate people from the current informal settlements and provide them, as is the case in most European countries, adequate reception conditions in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region as well as in other locations. It is also essential to address the current significant delays for those who want to apply for asylum in France.”


However, this ‘soft’ statement on Calais is a disgrace in comparison to the UNHCR much stronger words when a ‘non-donor’ developing country violated the rights of refugees. Last year, when the Sudanese government deported a number of Eritrean asylum seekers, the agency said the deportations “represented an ‘act of repression’ and could place the lives of those expelled in grave danger.”


Discrimination is the only word for it. If the offender happens to be an important donor country, for example Britain, UNHCR uses soft words such as ‘encourage’ and ‘remain concerned’. Forceful condemnations, naming and shaming, will only be directed at weak developing nations.


It goes without saying that wherever UNHCR has started a refugee relief operation, particularly in the developing nations, too often they ended up dealing with protracted situations. Eritrean refugees in Sudan, Somali in Kenya, Rwandese in Uganda, Afghans in Pakistan... the list goes on. The point is that UNHCR has been unsuccessful in carrying out its mandate, particularly the part relating to finding permanent solutions to the problems of refugees as stated in its 1950 statute.



Need for alternatives


The mistreatment of war victims in their search for sanctuary in Europe has visibly demonstrated that there is a sore need for alternative global protection and humanitarian regimes capable of protecting and assisting refugees and other forced migrants. Financial autonomy will be a key to the success of any future international system. The UNHCR too often shies away from criticising its major donor countries when they mistreat would-be refugees and that has negatively affected its performance. The time is now for setting up an entirely new international refugee protection regime if this farce unfolding in Europe is to be halted.



Tarig Yousif PhD is a freelance researcher in the field of forced migration and human displacement. He worked for many years as an aid worker in refugee camps in Sudan.

TAGS : Refugee Crisis Dublin Regulation in Europe Human Rights Syria Libya Calais Hungary
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