Refugee Convention - a Convention for the 21st century

Fifty years since the Refugee Convention was adopted, states are failing to effectively address the source of refugee flows - human rights violations, including violations during armed conflict. States are failing to respect the right to seek asylum from persecution, the principle of non-refoulement (that no one should be sent back to a place where they would be at risk of serious human rights abuses). Regrettably, states have also in the past failed to take steps which would ensure the effective monitoring of their treaty obligations.

'In the face of challenges such as people smuggling and tighter security following the September 11 attacks, governments must reaffirm their commitment to the Refugee Convention and ensure that protection is not compromised,' Amnesty International said. States should also take the first steps to introduce effective, independent and impartial monitoring of state compliance with this fundamental instrument.

In the aftermath of September 11, many governments have foresaken the human rights of refugees and asylum-seekers by imposing draconian security laws which inevitably target non-nationals.

Wealthier countries have cracked down on so-called 'mixed flows', going to extreme measures to keep out refugees and illegal immigrants, without distinction.

In July 2001, Amnesty International received reports that UK immigration officials based at Prague airport singled out travellers from the Roma minority for detailed questioning and many were refused permission to board their flights to the UK. The Australian government has taken to diverting boatloads of asylum-seekers to Pacific island nations - a measure that amounts to 'burden-shifting' rather than 'burden-sharing'.

'These policies do not respect the right to seek asylum and show little international solidarity on refugee protection. While it is unavoidable that asylum is discussed with migration, both of these topics, and responses coming out of this debate, need to be firmly placed within the framework of human rights protection.'

In the 50th anniversary year, there has also been little cooperation to protect masses in flight. The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan has resulted in thousands of internally displaced people without access to protection in addition to renewed flows of people across borders. While many states have offered support for the 'war against terrorism' they have failed to deal adequately with the consequences of the war and share the responsibility of protecting the Afghan displaced population.

The international community needs to explore ways of ensuring adequate protection in mass flight situations and ensure that the UN refugee agency is properly funded so it can carry out its work.

'Ministers meeting in Geneva are in a unique position to reconcile the challenges and needs of refugee protection in the 21st century with the timeless principles and spirit of the Refugee Convention. Millions of refugees and asylum-seekers are relying on them to do just that,' Amnesty International said.

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