Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Refugees, labour migrants and the 1951 UN Refugee Convention (3)

On 11 February 2016, the Russian PM said the following in an interview with a German newspaper: “My European colleagues may not like this, but I believe that this is an all-out and total failure, an all-round fiasco of the European immigration policy”. The irony is that (1) he is right, (2) that Russia is also responsible for this influx due to their military efforts in Syria, and (3) that Russia welcomes a destabilisation of the EU in order to (4) prevent the rise of a new Superpower.

Currently, there is a thin line between immigration and asylum. The Russian PM: “Who are these people? Some are fleeing the war, and there are many of them. They want to survive and, frankly, to receive the promised EU financial assistance. I think these allowances are approximately ten times larger than what these people earned in Syria”. 

I still believe in my proposals as outlined in my blogs of 8 August 2015 and 21 December 2015: treating refugees as labour migrants. However, there is a legal obstacle: the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees which is (mis)used for immigration purposes. In my view, this Convention is the main reason why European attempts to control the refugee crisis fail – and will continue to fail – and also why my solution to this problem will not work.

The 1951 Convention defines a refugee as a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country or return there because there is a fear of persecution” (source). Italic marking are mine.

Basically, this Convention allows refugees to ask for asylum regardless whether access to the host country happened legally or illegally. Latter probably explains why human refugee trafficking – including fake Syrian passports – has become such a big business for criminals. Clearly, the 1951 UN Convention never intended such purposes. It covered a (post) WW2 event.

Most countries signed and ratified the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol: see UNHCR list. Some did not: most Arab Countries (source), USA (Protocol only). The problem with the 1951 UN Refugee Convention has been listed in a 15 year old Research Paper by the Australian Parliament. Long before Europe, Australia faced a similar refugee problem. The Australian solution may be disputed but it works (eg, BBC).

In my view, there are only a few ways to deal with the 1951 UN Refugee Convention: (1) a very strict application of the above refugee definition, (2) the Australian way by using Greek islands, and (3) to repeal the 1951 UN Refugee Convention through national parliament(s). 

In my view, the only permanent solution is revoking the 1951 UN Refugee Convention through our national parliament(s) and to replace it – simultaneously – with a national Asylum Law. This would also address the legitimate concerns (eg, jobs, houses and welfare for local population) of far-right European political groups and could even help reducing their support back to normalised levels. If you can’t win the game then you better change the rules.


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