A Refugee’s Cry for Attention

    Historians have predicted that there existed traces of people migrating to other kingdoms seeking better life. Refugee’s have been indirectly changing the demographic pattern of the world. After the decolonisation of Africa from the European imperialism in the 1960s, there was a drastic shift in the perception of the international community about refugees. It was in the early 90’s that the world began to witness a massive change in the amount of people migrating in and out of countries. This could be because of the civil unrest brought by the transitional governments or the unwanted state of anarchy that paved its way to the society. This migration was primarily because of people’s desire for a better living. Each country has now proposed its own laws with respect to refugee. Perhaps, the mere thought of living or having better opportunities led them to refugee camps.[1] For most, life stays in the cage of stagnant camps. When it comes to getting refuge in another country, the refugee must be able to establish the fact that their life is being threatened in their own country.

    Most of the refugees have to face grave danger and risk to travel to another country to seek better life prospects. For example, the barbed wire installed at the Morocco-Spain border in the northern part of the African continent, to avoid refugees illegally passing the border to Europe has resulted in the death of many.[2] The refugees are ready to risk death in an attempt to cross the barbed wire because once they are on European land, Human Right Laws immediately take precedence over the illegal crossing of the border.[3] Refugee crisis is triggered incessantly by declining economic conditions, war and civil unrest. Most refugees are from countries like Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia with the cherry on the top occupied by the persecuted Rohingya refugees.[4]

    International Human Rights Law and Refugees

    When the United Nations was formed, the first thing it did was to lay down certain declarations that would ensure individual liberty. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights[6] is the first penned document that elaborates upon the rights of  each and every individual living around the globe. Being a signatory to the declaration does not imply that it is binding on the states signatory to the same. It is because of the absence of the lawful imposition of the Declaration of Human Rights, that many violations take place all around the world. For example, in 1989 many Human Rights violations took place in Tiananmen Square that attracted international attention and the United States of America imposed sanctions on China.[7] The protestors called for freedom of speech and expression (as guaranteed under Article 35 of the constitution  of  People’s Republic of China) and reforms in the Chinese education system to prepare children in accordance with the demands of the market. Instead, tanks were deployed followed by a military crackdown.  Many protestors had to illegally flee the country in order to avoid being prosecuted.

    https://legalreadings.com/the-rights-of-refugees-under-international-law/

    The Principle of Self-Determination

    This principle takes its roots from international customary law. The scope of the principle of self-determination grew significantly in the 20th Century especially during the era of World Wars. The UN has also recognised the same principle on the basis of which the UN Charter was formed and signed by the signatory states.

    The Cartagena Declaration

    The 1984 declaration is a “principle of commitments” adopted by a colloquium of signatory states to provide a safe environment for refuge seekers. The declaration is non-binding in nature but at the same time promotes regional cooperation in Latin America. The Colloquium works along the UNHCR in achieving its aims of promoting its agenda of peaceful settlement of refugees. Moreover, the declaration is first of its kind to try and define a refugee. According to the declaration a refugee is a “person who has fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order”.

    The Mexico Declaration

    The international community met in Mexico in 2004 to celebrate Latin American contribution towards its Asylum System and to congratulate the international community for 20 years of the Cartagena Declaration. The Mexico Declaration stood as a reminder to the international community that reaffirmed commitments towards people by providing them international protection. The declaration underscored the importance of the media’s contribution towards promoting multiculturalism and feelings of solidarity among the masses. For example, Columbia is accepting Venezuealan migrants during hyperinflation (started in 2018 under Nicolás Maduro government) for their help in accepting thousands of Colombian migrants during the Colombian guerilla wars of the 1960s.[8]

    The Brazil Declaration[9]

    The 2014 declaration is a newer version of the San Jose Declaration on Refugees and Displaced persons (1994) and adapts itself to the aims and objectives of the Cartagena Declaration. It has adopted a roadmap that is determined to spiel displacement trends. The declaration acknowledges that the world is in need of humanitarian aid and takes responsibility for those who are internationally displaced through international cooperation. This is done through execution of realistic programmes like Borders of Solidarity and Solidarity Resettlement under Mexico Plan of Action.  For example, the state of Venezuela is undergoing a massive influx of people going out of the country because of a crash in the price of Venezuelan Bolivar. The condition in 2018 got so bad that the currency lost all its value and people made handbags out of the currency in order to buy something to eat. A lot of people packed all their belongings and left on foot to the neighbouring Columbia.

    New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants

    The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) is critical in defining refugees but is ambiguous in helping nation states lay down criteria about how they should describe the status of refugees coming into their states. The New York Declaration forms a Comprehensive Refugee Reforms Framework that calls upon the UNHCR to provide for immediate response to cater to the needs of the refugees and if necessary, deport them back.[9] It is one of the objectives of the said declaration to safeguard refugees from xenophobia and promote equality in treatment for humanitarian aid. For example, in case of the refugees coming to the United States of America from Rwanda during the genocide, the refugees were helped with safe and orderly migration.[10]

    Xenophobia and Harassment

    The feeling of immense hatred towards a person of another country or origin is described as xenophobia. Refugees face discrimination only because they are from a different race, culture and origin. The refugees are denied admission into schools, opportunity to work and basic health facilities. A large majority of people, predominantly from Islamic nations seek refuge. The way in which the international media has portrayed the muslim community is derrogatory. The fear of xenophobia manifests itself deeply into the soul of orthodoxy. There is an evident hostility towards people belonging to other nations on the basis of their ethnicity. Therfore, the world feels that most terrorist and barbaric attacks have been committed by the muslim community, while the truth is that they get more media coverage than any attack committed by any other community. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand had shown compassion against xenophobic attacks against the muslic community in her state. It would be easier if the world understands that individual radical elements turn towards xenophobic harassment. For example, Germany in 2013 had adopted a policy that welcomed refugees. With one refugee committing a brutal crime, the whole country turned xenophobic. Since then, Germany has gotten socially accustomed to refugees and continues to adapt itself.

    Conclusion

    As you read this article, many people would be on their journey from the continent of Africa to the European border by undertaking a life-threatening journey through the Mediteranean Sea. To those of you reading this in the comfort of your homes, do reflect upon the painstaking journey that some people have to undertake while trying to make things work and get a better shot at life. While many die dreaming, some get to achieve their dream. If you think you can make a contribution please donate or volunteer. There are many who need help.

    REFERENCES

    [1] Johnny Wood, “5 facts you should know about the world’s refugees”, We Forum, 20 June 2019, available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/06/5-facts-you-should-know-about-the-world-s-refugees/ (last visited on 9th December, 2020).

    [2] Lauren Frayer, “The Fences Where Spain And Africa Meet”,  The NPR, 16 April, 2015, available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/04/16/393577925/the-fences-where-spain-and-africa-meet (last visited on 9th December, 2020).

    [3] Ana Garcia Valdivia, “Spanish Border Fences: The End Of Barbed Wire Dividing Europe From North Africa”, Forbes, 12 September 2019, available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/anagarciavaldivia/2019/09/12/spanish-border-fences-the-end-of-barbed-wire-dividing-europe-from-north-africa/?sh=382860035602 (last visited on 9th December, 2020).

    [4] International Justice Resource Centre, available at: https://ijrcenter.org/refugee-law/ (last visited on 9th December, 2020).

    [5] “International Bill of Human Rights”, United for Human Rights, available at: https://www.humanrights.com/what-are-human-rights/international-human-rights-law/international-human-rights-law-continued.html#:~:text=International%20Human,Rights%20Law&text=Both%20became%20international%20law%20in,of%20speech%2C%20religion%20and%20voting (last visited on 9th December, 2020).

    [6] Jacques Langevin, “Tiananmen Square Protests”, History, 31 May 2019, available at: https://www.history.com/topics/china/tiananmen-square (last visited on 9th December, 2020).

    [7] OCHA Services, “Venezuela Migration Crisis in Colombia”, Relief Web, 8 July 2020, available at: https://reliefweb.int/report/colombia/venezuela-migration-crisis-colombia  (last visited on 9th December, 2020).

    [8] UNHCR India, “New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants”, UNHCR, available at: https://www.unhcr.org/new-york-declaration-for-refugees-and-migrants.html#:~:text=On%20September%2019%2C%202016%2C%20the,Declaration%20for%20Refugees%20and%20Migrants.&text=It%20has%20paved%20the%20way,safe%2C%20orderly%20and%20regular%20migration ( last visited on 9th December, 2020).

    [9] UNHCR India, “The Brazil Declaration”, UNHCR, available at: https://www.unhcr.org/brazil-declaration.html (last visited on 9th December, 2020).

    [10] UNHCR, “The New York Declaration”, available at: https://www.unhcr.org/584689257.pdf (last visited on 9th December, 2020).


    BY RIDHA DHAWAN | PANJAB UNIVERSITY, REGIONAL CENTRE, LUDHIANA

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