22 November 2012

The rights of the asylum seeker

With asylum seeker so constantly in the news it should hardly be necessary to remind anyone of the rights to which asylum seekers are entitled under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, but the policies and pronouncements of both Government and Opposition are so far from what we signed up for in 1951 and 1961 that it does indeed seem necessary.

Information is not hard to find. Apart from the source documents, easily discoverable on the web at The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) home page (see here), UNHCR in September 2011 published a helpful Public Awareness Brochure on the Convention and Protocol, downloadable from here.

That document contains at page 4 a very succinct statement of the rights of refugees under the Convention, and I present below the text in its entirety:

What rights do refugees have under the 1951 Convention?

The 1951 Convention contains a number of rights and also highlights the obligations of refugees towards their host country. The cornerstone of the 1951 Convention is the principle of  non-refoulement contained in Article 33. According to this principle, a refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom. This protection may not be claimed by refugees who are reasonably regarded as a danger to the security of the country, or having been convicted of a particularly serious crime, are considered a danger to the community.

Other rights contained in the 1951 Convention include:
• The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions (Article 32);
• The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State (Article31);
• The right to work (Articles 17 to 19);
• The right to housing (Article 21);
• The right to education (Article 22);
• The right to public relief and assistance (Article 23);
• The right to freedom of religion (Article 4);
• The right to access the courts (Article 16);
• The right to freedom of movement within the territory (Article 26); and
• The right to be issued identity and travel documents (Articles 27 and 28).

Some basic rights, including the right to be protected from refoulement, apply to all refugees. A refugee becomes entitled to other rights the longer they remain in the host country, which is based on the recognition that the longer they remain as refugees, the more rights they need.

What is difficult to understand about that?

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