Signatory Or Non-Signatory To The Refugee Convention: Refugee Protection Is A Global Responsibility

Since the inception of the Refugee Convention, by the United Nations, all countries have had the liberty to choose whether to be a signatory or not. This famous 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (and its 1967 Protocol) has been upheld as the fundamental documents which outline refugee and asylum rights issues. The repeated questions over the decades have been what is the relevance of the convention as several states are not abiding by the provisions therein.

It is worth mentioning that 2021 marks its 70th anniversary but the questions of its significance and importance remain a major debate for refugee rights researchers. There is indeed more to be done given the increasing geometric increase in refugee migration data these days.

It has been strange and disappointing that global dialogue on respecting the terms inscribed in the convention has been done only by signatory members of this convention. Non-signatory members seem to have given a blind eye to this global phenomenon which should be included in the International global table for all to deliberate and support. The pending question then, is why are some countries practically not interested in sharing the global responsibility of supporting and protecting the rights of refugees? Could signing a convention be the only basis for a conscience that’s empathic towards people who have been unjustly compelled to flee their homes? Could our generation be failing on the humanity component to show solidarity and concern for others despite prescribed laws?

Even if there are complexities and unclear terms in the convention which could be considered unsustainable given the increased change in refugee situations, there is responsibility under international law for all countries to participate in this global crisis. Seeing how unpredictable conflicts have erupted in recent years leaving millions with no options but to migrate for safety, there is no saying which country is next in line. This should be a call for a response to support other countries by deliberately budgeting and contributing to refugee-led projects.

It is noteworthy to applaud the signatory members of the refugee convention who have invested efforts in respecting the provisions in any capacity. Though the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol are international legal instruments that countries voluntarily agree to be bound by, the alarming growth of the refugee crisis can no longer be left solely to states that have signed up to be members. It is commendable that data from the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law in March 2020 affirmed that there are currently 148 States party to one or both of the Convention and the Protocol. As impressive as these numbers may be, the applauds come with questions of how much implementation has been done in these countries. Was the convention signed because some states don’t want to assume the last positions in global affairs or don’t want to be regarded as not involved? Harder questions are probably lingering in refugees’ minds.

However, slightly pleasant data written by Prof. Maja Janmyr confirmed that by the end of 2020, 149 States were party to the 1951 Convention, its 1967 Protocol, or both. Though it is disturbing statistics that forty-four members of the United Nations (UN), however, were not a party to either of these core instruments. Adding her voice to charting a research agenda, Janmyr adds, these non-signatory States are found predominantly in the Middle East and in South and Southeast Asia. For example, regionally, in the Middle East region, only Iran, Israel, Egypt, and Yemen are party to the Convention, while major refugee-producing and refugee-hosting States such as Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and most States in the Gulf region are non-signatories.

Furthermore, important non-signatory States in South and Southeast Asia include India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The non-signatory States are found in other regions of the world, also: for example, States such as Eritrea, Libya, Mongolia, and Cuba. Sadly, Uzbekistan is the only Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) country that is not a party to the 1951 Convention, while Guyana is the only non-signatory State in South America.

For several decades, there has been the ‘assumed’ central position of the refugee convention during global discussions, however, how central is this convention in terms of its application by all states? It is imperative that all non-signatory States be included in the conversation about the function and the impact of international refugee law more generally. There is a strong interaction between, actors on a global, national, and local level more closely, which has a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the interplay between international refugee law and non-signatory States.

Given how complex and nonchalant the responses of some states have been regarding refugee rights protection and promotion, other alternatives remain imperative to maintain. In this regard, Koh’s notion of “transnational legal processes” allows a more precise focus on the socialization processes of legal argument and doctrine on this issue. This perspective sees state behaviour as influenced by interactions both within the domestic system and between the domestic and international systems. Of specific interest to international refugee law, this theory counters state-centric accounts of these processes by introducing a different set of actors, fora, and transactions, allowing us, for example, to capture actors as fundamentally different from one another as UNHCR, state diplomats, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), legal aid providers, domestic courts, and universities.

The blame of the weight to support refugee and asylum seeker’s plights cannot be left solely in some inactive states who have ratified the convention legally in writing nor on the non-signatory members who have chosen silence. The burden is now on everyone to contribute however tiny it may be. This is the time for example, for English native speakers to contribute to teaching the English Language to refugees who are from non-english speaking countries. This is the moment for wealthy people to decide to sponsor refugee children in school by contributing in their tuition or offering fully funded scholarships.

In conclusion, this is exactly the season where real estate corporations can offer to build low cost housing to provide refugees with temporary homes. Everyone has a duty to support these vulnerable people. They did not plan their demise and could have never previewed these heartbreaking situations will befall them. No one can clearly predict their country’s political or environmental futures. Thus, there is need for joint hands in every aspect to welcome and ensure comfortable living conditions for all refugees especially orphan children. International refugee protection exceeds signing global international agreements without practical actions as host countries. Everyone has a role to play.

Sarah Namondo


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