In 1951, UN High Commissioner for Refugees drafted the Refugee Convention – a document that would later be ratified by 145 State parties and make critical strides such as defining a “refugee,” outlining the legal obligations of States to protect them, and establishing the rights of the displaced; further enumerating international standards. Then, in 1967, the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees was introduced, removing geographical and temporal limitations on the protection of refugees, which were previously limited to only Europe and only those displaced by conflicts pre-1951. Earlier just this year, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was released, further laying out protections and shared responsibilities. Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world – so many rely on these provisions as life-saving measures during displacement. Unfortunately, these documents are non-comprehensive and scenarios do arise in which countries shirk the responsibilities they have hitherto upheld.
In 2014, the world witnessed the beginning of a virtually unprecedented wave of refugees and forcibly displaced peoples – reaching levels not seen since WWII, with an estimated 65 million displaced (22.5 million being refugees). Many factors contributed to this surge, but at its center were the rise of the Islamic State, the Syrian Civil War, and continued instability in Afghanistan and Central Africa. Thousands of individuals died or disappeared attempting to migrate away from conflict zones, and even as these events continued to transpire, many nations failed or refused to adhere to the 1951 and 1967 Protocol standards. Hotly debated plans of action came into effect, triggering questions of legality and overreach. A refugee deal between the EU and Turkey took place in 2016, limiting migrant movement into the EU through Turkey. Kenya would have shut down Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, had a High Court not blocked the proposal in early 2017. Further offenses, no less egregious for their smaller scale, take place every day in refugee detention facilities worldwide: while a person’s status is being determined, on the streets in the form of xenophobic attacks, or along borders by the refusal of admittance, and everywhere in between.
Specific aspects of the current status of refugees that ought to be addressed by the committee range from basic rights like access to food and water, right to adequate shelter, and the right to bodily integrity, to more complex rights like the right to education, unity of the family, access to courts, etc. Another vital point of discussion will be the scheme by which international responsibility ought to be distributed, and whether the emphasis is on resettlement, financial obligations, or both. As a delegate in HRC, you must ask yourself, by what system does your government believe refugees and/or financial obligations ought to be distributed? What, if any, repercussions should there be for countries who violate the human rights of refugees? And how can the international community work to ensure the protection of refugee rights?