What happens when a nation’s military decides to attack its own people to curb oppression? Or a relentless civil war breaks out because a government was conveniently looking the other way? Or worse, a minority is targeted because ostensibly accepting their identity was a mere façade to stem secessionist movements? I conclude my rhetoric by asking you this; who gets affected?
International law recognizes refugees as those individuals who are outside their country of national residence and/or have a well-rounded fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality etc. Examining previous and existing international treaties toward rehabilitation of refugees, it can be said that most protocols have fallen short of achieving their stated goals. Before however investigating possible reasons of failure of such treaties, let’s look at two slightly divergent case studies in the international arena.
Following United States of America’s global War on Terror after the 9/11 attacks and the ‘smoking out’ of terrorists it intended to achieve in Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of Afghanis sought refuge in the neighbouring country of Pakistan. In 2012, one of out every four refugees was an Afghani and the country stood as the biggest source of refugees around the world. A glance of the country’s past will reveal years of struggle by its citizens for basic facilities and a continuous chain of compelling factors that have drawn people out their homes and into foreign lands for refuge. The communist regime’s stringent agricultural policies in 1978, followed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the refugee situation had become abysmal even before US’s interventions. More than three decades of unrelenting conflict, environmental disasters, large scale human rights abuses have led to dismal humanitarian conditions. A primary point of analysis of such a crisis is the status and contribution of the host countries. Pakistan has periodically engaged in closing of their borders and clamping down on long-term camps as it has faced a huge influx of Afghanis through the years. As of 2014, the number of people seeking refuge in Pakistan is set to dramatically increase, contrary to what Pakistani authorities had expected. Khalid Koser predicts a crisis of internal displacement for Afghanistan as it becomes more difficult to cross the borders and seek refuge in Iran and Pakistan. Additionally, he cites internal displacement as a temporary survival strategy for a significant proportion of Afghanis.
The case of Syria may be dissimilar but it seems to be going in the same direction as Afghanistan as the latest report by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees posits Syrians supplanting Afghans as the largest refugee group. With the breaking out of civil war in 2011 following anti-government protests and an unravelling of violence around various parts of the nation, citizens fled from their cities homes. The intensification of military activity in the Idlib province proved to be one of the initial triggers for cross-border displacement to Turkey and Lebanon. Currently, estimated 2 million Syrian refugees reside in camps in Jordan, Iraq and other neighbouring nations with even more internally displaced. A struggle to receive basic amenities and the continuous danger of chaos has engulfed the lives of Syrian refugees, as documented by the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was the first internationally recognized and ratified convention to aid and support refugees across the world. Despite having an extensive framework for the recognition and rights of refugees, the Convention has huge limitations. Firstly, the 1951 Convention leaves the adherence to the enshrined principles on the States itself with no authoritative body to regulate any oversight on the part of any nation. Secondly, there remains a great many people who are forced to leave their homes for safety, but who do not satisfy the technical and narrow definition of the refugee enshrined in the Convention.
Every nation ought to protect what is most sacred to its foundation, i.e. its people. It is of significant importance that we aid those who have become mere variables in an equation where violence and destruction are constant.
About the Author
Anushka Kaushik is currently pursuing Journalism from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University and strongly believes in the power of the media to influence change in matter of public policy. She is of the opinion however that consuming media content is as important as having media awareness. Her interest and professional goal lies in the study of international relations and eventually reporting in such matters for print media. She is currently pursuing her internship with Alexis Centre for Public Policy and International Relations.