UN urges governments to recommit to protecting refugees and stateless people

A group of refugees from Côte d'Ivoire waiting to be registered in eastern Liberia

19 May 2011 – As the 60th anniversary of the landmark global pact on the status of refugees approaches, the United Nations refugee agency is urging States to make new commitments to protecting the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees and find ways of addressing displacement as a result of non-traditional causes.

This year the UN is marking the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as well as the 50th Anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Erika Feller, Assistant High Commissioner on Protection in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in New York today that new causes of displacement are emerging, including some driven by climate change, even as governments increasingly ignore the conventions obliging them to protect the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and those considered stateless.

She said States should come together to consider “what level of protection is due to people displaced by other factors.”

Detention of refugees is on the rise due to fear of terrorism and trans-national crime, Ms. Feller said. “In many cases criminals have more rights than refugees,” she said, adding that governments were spending money to trample the rights of refugees by confining them in detention facilities.

UNHCR was created in December 1950 by the General Assembly. Its original purpose was to address the post-World War II refugee situation in Europe, but its work quickly expanded.

Ms. Feller highlighted the problem of statelessness, noting that stateless people remained “underappreciated” and denied the right to education, travel and even decent burial because they lack identity. “They live in the legal shadow in States where they live,” Ms. Fuller said.

UNHCR will use the forthcoming anniversary to advocate for the strengthening of the international legal framework for dealing with the world’s statelessness and displaced, including lobbying States for increased accession to the key refugee and statelessness conventions.

According to UNHCR, only 65 of the 192 UN Member States are currently State parties to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, while just 37 have acceded to or ratified the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

The marking of the 60th anniversary of the 1951 convention will culminate in early December when a ministerial conference will be held to review the conventions and invite States to make new commitments to the protection of refugees and devise an action plan to implement those obligations, according to Ms. Feller.

“Refugee protection is not a thing of the past; it is a huge challenge for the future,” she said.


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