Forced Migrants and Refugees
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as a person who is in another country owing to genuine fear of being persecuted because of reasons such as religion, race, nationality, and membership of a certain political or social grouping. Because of those factors, the person is unwilling or unable to avail himself of the protection of that country. He is also, owing to those factors, unable or unwilling to return to the nation of his residence. A forced migrant is a term that has acquired a broad definition over time often leading to confusion.
‘Forced migrants’ however do not enjoy the same treatment as refugees under the specified international legal protection. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees does not have direct provisions for a ‘forced migrant’ but expounds on definition and legal status of a refugee. The convention does however stipulate that it does not recognize any person as a refugee if; 1. He has committed a war crime or any form of crime against peace and humanity. 2. Has committed a serious crime outside the country of refuge. 3. Has been found guilty of acts that contradict United Nations purposes and principles.
(UNHCR) According to the International Association for the of Study of Forced Migration, a forced migrant is a general term referring to a person who has unwillingly moved from the place of his habitual residence owing to reasons such as conflict, natural disasters, environmental disasters, nuclear or chemical disasters, famine, and developmental projects. (Mathews 2004) A forced migrant is therefore a general term referring to refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), asylum seekers, smuggled people, and trafficked people.
Forced migrants also include persons displaced other factors including developmental purposes, disaster induced purposes, and conflict induced purposes. (Marrus 1985) This paper will therefore treat a refugee as a special category of a forced migrant. More than one hundred and fifty nations have undertaken to protect refugees by signing the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 protocol. (Wyman 1998) Persons recognized as refugees by international conventions enjoy privileges that other forced migrants do not.
They have a clear legal status as stipulated by international conventions and are entitled to the protection of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has a presence in over a hundred countries and has a budget of more than eight hundred million dollars. In 2008, the UNHCR reported that there an estimated 11. 4 million refugees globally. (UNHCR) The terms refugee, forced migrant, and displaced person are at times used to mean the same thing.
Majority of ‘displaced persons’ flee their places of habitual residence mainly because of armed conflicts. Displaced persons may seek asylum while others may prefer remain synonymous. Since the end of the cold war, the number of armed conflicts has escalated around the world. (Hilton 2006) This has led to the dramatic increase of internally displaced persons. The number of internally displaced persons has far outnumbered that of world refugees. It is estimated that there are over twenty one million internally displaced persons worldwide.
This number has been fueled by internal conflicts by ethnic, national, and religious separatist struggles. The 1992 report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations defines internally displaced persons as people forced to unwillingly flee their places of residence suddenly or unexpectedly in great numbers because of internal strife, armed conflict, violation of human rights, man-made or natural disasters, and remain within their country’s territory. (UNHCR) The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees does not consider a person to be a refugee if;
• The person is recognized by the authorities of the country he has taken refuge in as having the rights and obligations similar to those of other citizens. • The person is receiving organs and agencies other than United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees assistance and protection. According to the convention, any refugee has duties and obligations to the country he finds himself in. He must conform to the laws and regulations of the host country and any measures taken to maintain public order.
All contracting states to the convention are obliged to apply all the convention principles without any form of discrimination such as that of religion, race or country of religion. Refugees shall also be accorded their freedom to practice their own religion. The contracting country shall give a refugee treatment similar to the one accorded to foreigners generally. All refugees shall be exempted from legislative reciprocity after a period of three years’ residence. The convention stipulates that a refugee’s status be governed by the law of his home country.
A refugee should be able to have the same rights he enjoyed before and more particularly all rights attached to marriage. A host country is supposed to accord a refugee treatment as favorable as possible with regard to acquisition of movable and immovable property. As indicated earlier, refugees enjoy legal recognition and protection especially in regard to the 1951 refugee convention. This status is not enjoyed by other forced migrants not categorized as refugees. The rights (privileges) enjoyed by refugees include; • A refugee has free access to courts of law of the host country.
These include matters pertaining to the legal process such as legal assistance and representation. • The right to employment. A refugee also has the right for self employment in his host country. • Right to public education, housing, relief, and rationing. (UNHCR) Conclusion Ideally, a refugee is supposed to receive the same treatment as citizens or the most favorable treatment possible from his country of residence. With the ever increasing number of refugees, there is need to ensure that refugees are accorded the best treatment they can get.
Displacement of persons is a complicated issue that needs keen focus. Only a very small percentage of displaced people receive the attention and recognition that they require. Refugees constitute only a small percentage of forced migrants. There is only one major international body (UNHCR) that has the responsibility of dealing with displaced persons and it specializes on refugees. In my opinion, more specialized bodies should be established by the United Nations to deal with different categories of displaced persons. References Hilton, Ella E. (2006)
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