World Refugee Day 2016: Recommitting to Basic Humanitarian Principles

At no time since World War II have this many people – an estimated 65 million – been displaced worldwide. Sadly, even this staggering number likely does not capture the full picture. Floods, droughts and slow-onset environmental factors further contribute to long-term displacement, but often occur outside of the spotlight of the international community and frequently go under-reported.

World Refugee Day 2016 must be an occasion for the global community to recommit itself to the foundational principles enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as in the Geneva Conventions, to uphold and defend the humanity and internationally guaranteed rights of the most vulnerable.

World Refugee Day 2016 must be an occasion for the global community to recommit itself to the foundational principles enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as in the Geneva Conventions, to uphold and defend the humanity and internationally guaranteed rights of the most vulnerable.

Unfortunately, these principles are under threat. Over the past year, refugees have been treated as bargaining chips in geopolitical negotiations between Turkey and the EU. In Kenya, the government is threatening to shut down Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, and forcibly return refugees to Somalia. Here in the U.S., too many politicians have been quick to malign refugees. As a global community, when so many people around the world have been forced from their homes and are in desperate need of care and protection, we must do better.

In Syria alone, more than 11 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Organized gang violence has displaced hundreds of thousands in Central America. Climate change, armed conflict and targeted persecution of ethnic or religious groups have forced unprecedented displacement across the globe.

During their perilous journeys to safety, women, children and individuals with disabilities are at particularly high risk of further victimization, including gender-based violence and human trafficking, often even after reaching places of perceived safety.

No country is exempt from its obligation to share the burden of providing basic needs and protecting fundamental rights.

After losing their homes and even their countries, displaced individuals count on the global community not to turn a blind eye to their suffering. No country is exempt from its obligation to share the burden of providing basic needs and protecting fundamental rights.

The Refugee Convention was born on the ashes of the destruction in Europe in the aftermath of World War II, and assisted in the recovery of many countries on that continent. Yet today, there is not the same consensus about the individual national obligations contained in this document.Rather, there is a growing chorus of political voices in Western countries that challenge these core commitments at the expense of assisting the world’s most vulnerable. Instead of a strengthened resolve to tackle head-on the current global refugee crises through joint and additional burden sharing, these voices intentionally blur legal definitions, find surrogate countries onto which they can transfer their legal obligations, or challenge the recognized protected status of individuals wholesale. These voices describe refugees collectively as an amorphous mass intent on visiting harm on their host communities, or imply nefarious motives aimed at undermining cultural traditions and values in their potential resettlement countries.

Displaced persons have suffered indescribable horrors, including those committed by terrorist organizations against them. They are frequently the terrorists’ first victims, and should never be pawns in a twisted game of scoring domestic political points by instilling fear in potential host countries.

It is therefore imperative that each one of us remains vigilant and demand from every member state the strict adherence to its respective international humanitarian obligations in protecting the rights of every human being, no matter their religion, race, gender, or place of birth.

Refugees International fully recognizes the magnitude and enormous difficulties inherent in today’s displacement and the enormous burden these challenges place on the international humanitarian system, which is often pushed to the limits of its capacities and beyond. We have documented these challenges all over the world, including in Somalia, Turkey, Jordan, Ukraine, Myanmar, Mexico, Nigeria, South Sudan, Burundi.

We are committed to engaging all relevant stakeholders and providing practical and implementable solutions after identifying relevant protection gaps, highlighting the needs of neglected communities, and raising the alarm of potential future crises. Refugees International will continue to be a powerful voice for lifesaving action.

That is the commitment we make on behalf of our organization on World Refugee Day 2016.