The term 'refugee' evokes mixed response from the populace in general. But what does it mean to be a refugee? All I know is, the term 'Refugee' is more often frowned upon than welcomed , and the receiving countries, in some way or the other, exhibit hysteria and paranoia, as a sign of resistance towards them. Leaving behind ones' homeland, the savings, the family, the possessions, and most importantly the emotional connect with your roots, is possibly the hardest, and the scariest of catastrophes that can happen to anyone. Such ill destined people, who have no homeland to call as their own, are the ones we call refugees. States are responsible for protecting the fundamental rights of their citizens. However, when they fail to do so or are unrelenting towards their citizens, mostly for political reasons or based on prejudices, it is then that the situation becomes unfavourable to survive in such lands. Individuals may suffer such serious violations of their humanitarian rights that they are compelled to leave their homes, their families, their communities to seek shelter in another country. Since, by definition, refugees are left unprotected by their governments, here the role of international community comes into action in ensuring that such displaced people are under safe roof.
Let's take a look at how this whole concept of safeguarding the rights of people began. In July 1951, a diplomatic conference was held in Geneva where the convention relating to the status of refugees was adopted, it was later amended by the 1967 Protocol. The 1951Geneva Convention and its 1967 Protocol, are the only global legal documents that elaborate the most important aspects of a refugee's life and the kind of legal protection, other assistance and social rights to be offered to a refugee. According to this ruling , refugees are individuals who are forced to flee their homelands amid threats of persecution, and due to inadequate or no safety provisions by their Govt. The proclamation of the Geneva convention and its protocol, state that, ' refugees deserve at least the same standards of treatment enjoyed by other foreign nationals in a given country, and in many cases even to the extent of enjoying the same treatment as nationals. The 1951 Refugee convention and its 1967 Protocol recognise the refugees as 'the most vulnerable set of people in the world' and a call to protect them.
Did you know, the first of the refugees were the Europeans who fled their homes in search of a safe refuge in the aftermath of the first world war (1914-1917). Their percentage swelled up dramatically during and after the second world war (1939-1945), as millions and millions were forcibly displaced or deported.
The current statistics provided by the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees are not only shockingly high, but, also call for immediate global attention. According to UNHCR there were 19.5 million refugees world wide at the end of 2014. Around 14.14 million fall under the mandate of UNHCR, around 2.9 million more than 2013. In 2014, the country hosting the largest number of refugees was Turkey, with nearly 1.59 million refugees. At least, 1.66 million people submitted applications seeking asylum in 2014, the figures touched a record high. With an estimated 274,700 asylum claims, the Russian Federation became the largest recipient of new individual applications in 2014, followed by Germany ( 173,100) and the USA (121,200).
In the EU, Germany continues to be the recipient of the largest number of asylum applications followed by France, Sweden, Italy and the UK. We have very often heard the term asylum, but what is really an asylum and how is it sanctioned? Asylum is a kind of international protection cover given by a host country on its territory. It is accorded to individuals who are unable to seek protection in their own country of citizenship or residence, for the fear of being persecuted on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political affinity. Such people carry the risk of their lives and seek protection from international community.
European Union, by far, has been steadfast in extending support to the dislodged refugees, and taking up their cause rather seriously. Since 1999, the EU has been involved in erecting a joint European asylum system and improving the current legislative framework. As per the EU norm, asylum should not be treated as some sort of lottery ticket. On the contrary, all the EU member states should work in coherence to guarantee fair treatment to asylum seekers, and to examine their case uniformly throughout , no matter where an applicant applies but the outcome should always be similar.
In the year 2014, the highest number of positive asylum decisions was recorded in Germany ( 48,000) followed by Sweden (33,000), France and Italy (both 21,000), the UK (14,000) and the Netherlands (13,000). Altogether, these six member states accounted for 81% of the total number of positive decisions issued in the EU-28. However, the big question in focus, which I find quite valid too is, how far can these few countries be levied with the burden of settling immigrants whereas the other members of the bloc take negligible responsibility? The practice of settling refugees in Europe should be transparent, and all the EU member countries should take equal responsibility in load shedding. Brussels is pondering over this whole issue, and hopes to fix this faulty system that has so far led to huge discrepancies between the countries. The commission paper says: “Some member states have already made a major contribution to [refugee] resettlement efforts. But others offer nothing.” The document continues further, “Such vulnerable people cannot be left to resort to the criminal networks of smugglers and traffickers. There must be safe and legal ways for them to reach the EU.”
The bold step taken by Brussels comes as EU draws up plans for military attacks in Libya in order to restrain the influx of refugees across mediterranean by targetting the trafficking networks. The move was initiated by Italy that will command the military operation. Though,there is broad support within the EU for the military plans, the idea for sharing the immigration burden has not gone down too well, and has triggered a controversial and divisive argument within the EU Bloc. Brussels is proposing to invoke emergency mechanisms that will oblige the 28 countries to share the numbers of “persons in clear need of international protection” and “to ensure a fair and balanced participation of all member states to this common effort. This step will be the precursor of a lasting solution”.
According to the proposed campaign, the asylum seekers will be uniformly spread among the EU member states via a quota based on factors like, population, GDP, unemployment and the number of asylum claims.
Within the EU, Germany till now has been most generous in accepting refugees from various war torn countries, but a talk that has been doing the rounds for quite some time now is, how far can one nation bear the burden of asylum seekers? The Eastern states take very few refugees. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, a leading hardliner on immigration, described the commission proposals as 'mad' and pledged to defy Brussels. He said: “The European concept of ‘someone letting immigrants into their country’ and then ‘distributing’ them among the other member states is a mad and unfair idea.”
Amid all the furore, a uniform law and a uniform distribution, seem to be the only solution to the growing concern as increasing numbers of immigrants are crossing the shores and making their way into Europe.
P.S. - When I wrote this blog I was confused whether the nations opposing refugees have a valid reason behind their resistance, after all, they have the needs of their own people to cater to, and so many refugees are turning up at their gateways every day. Today, when I see the images of human bodies washed ashore ,and the plight of refugees who are stranded at sea without food and water, it pains me as a human...and I begin to question myself. These are not just dead bodies but it is essentially our humanity that has washed ashore. This is a human crises and those countries which have slammed their doors on such helpless and homeless people should hang their heads in collective shame. Germany can teach them a good lesson or two on serving humanity,by opening its doors it has restored our faith in humanity which was being challenged. The locals have welcomed refugees with open arms, bringing food, water, clothes and whatever, they could lay their hands upon. I have no qualms admitting that Germany is by far the best country in the world, and undoubtedly my favourite too. I am proud to be living in a nation that values human life more than its own interests, when so many rich countries have turned a blind eye to human sufferings. Bravo Germany!!