Posts Tagged UNHCR
Almost a quarter of British children do not know the meaning of the word “refugee”, according to a new survey, amid mounting evidence of a growth in negative sentiments and scepticism towards those seeking asylum in the UK.
Just over half of teachers (52 per cent) spoken to by the British Red Cross (BRC) said they had witnessed “anti-refugee” sentiments in their pupils and almost a quarter of children (24 per cent) did not know what a refugee was.https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/refugee-asylum-uk-children-immigration-red-cross-survey-a8958936.html
The legal definition of the term “refugee” is set out at Article 1A(2) of the Refugee Convention, which defines a refugee as a person who:
Owing to 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 or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it.
The definition can be broken into constituent parts:
Possession of a fear that is well founded rather than fanciful
Of treatment that is so bad it amounts to being persecuted
For one of five reasons, referred to as ‘Convention reasons’: race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion
Being outside one’s country
Being unable or unwilling to obtain protection in that country
All of the conditions need to be met for the person to be considered a refugee. For example, a person might have a well founded fear and be unable to get protection but if that person does not fear being persecuted for a Convention reason then the person is not a refugee in legal terms. Another person may meet all the other criteria for refugee status but be living in a refugee camp in their own country, in which case he or she is not a refugee and instead would often be referred to as an Internally Displaced Person.https://www.freemovement.org.uk/what-is-the-legal-meaning-of-refugee/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-is-the-legal-meaning-of-refugee&utm_source=Free+Movement&utm_campaign=66cbdac396-Asylum+updates&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_792133aa40-66cbdac396-105090761&mc_cid=66cbdac396&mc_eid=2edcf25685
Of course, these definitions are the international ones used to determine legal status. They clearly exclude someone leaving their country voluntarily in order to better themselves economically, but they also may exclude people fleeing famine or poverty, or civil war unless some aspect of those situations targets the individual because of their ‘ race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.’
It’s therefore more complex than we might have imagined, and explains perhaps why so many applications for asylum fail. (There are of course myriad other reasons, notably a culture of disbelief.)
With all of these caveats, as Colin Yeo (immigration & asylum barrister, and editor of the Free Movement immigration law website) puts it, the Refugee Convention is ‘almost certainly the single law that has saved the most lives in history’. There’s lots more information about the Convention on the UNHCR website, which clarifies the wider role that they play in supporting people who have been ‘forcibly displaced’ (for example, they work with those who are internally displaced – i.e. they have fled their homes but are still in their own country).
For over half a century, UNHCR has helped millions of people to restart their lives. They include refugees, returnees, stateless people, the internally displaced and asylum-seekers. Our protection, shelter, health and education has been crucial, healing broken pasts and building brighter futures.
An unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.
There are also an estimated 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.https://www.unhcr.org/uk/who-we-help.html; https://www.unhcr.org/uk/figures-at-a-glance.html
Refugee Action, one of the foremost UK charities working with refugee and asylum seekers, has produced this useful list of FAQs:
Q. What is a refugee?
A. According to the UN Refugee Convention, the definition of a refugee is someone 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’ (Article 1, 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees)
Q. What is an asylum seeker?
The definition of an asylum seeker is someone who has arrived in a country and asked for asylum. Until they receive a decision as to whether or not they are a refugee, they are known as an asylum seeker. In the UK, this means they do not have the same rights as a refugee or a British citizen would. For example, asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work.
The right to seek asylum is a legal right we all share. It isn’t illegal to seek asylum, because seeking asylum is a legal process. It also isn’t illegal to be refused asylum – it just means you haven’t been able to meet the very strict criteria to prove your need for protection as a refugee.
Q. Are there many refugees and asylum seekers in the UK?
A. No. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by the end of 2017 there were 121,837 refugees, 40,365 pending asylum cases and 97 stateless persons in the UK. That’s around one quarter of a percent (0.25%) of the UK’s total population.
Q. Is the number of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK increasing?
A. Asylum applications to the UK are relatively low – 26,350 in 2017. They increased slightly in 2015, when there were 32,733 applications for asylum, but this was still significantly lower than the peak of 84,000 applications back in 2002.
Q. Which countries help the most refugees?
A. 85% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries. The least developed countries host one third of the total number of refugees globally. At the end of 2017, the country hosting the most refugees was Turkey –home to 3.5 million refugees. Other significant host countries for refugees were Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.2 million) and Lebanon (998,850).
Q. How many Syrian refugees are there and how many is the UK helping?
A. According to the UNHCR, by the end of 2017 there were 6.3 million Syrian refugees worldwide. Around 4.4 million of these refugees are currently being hosted by just two countries – Turkey and Lebanon. As well as providing aid to the refugee camps on Syria’s borders, the UK has pledged to resettle 20,000 Syrians by 2020 through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. By the end of 2017, 10,538 Syrian refugees had come to the UK through this scheme.
Q. Which countries in Europe have the most asylum seekers?
A. In 2017, Germany received the highest number of asylum applications (199,200), Italy the second most (128,800) and France third (98,800). The UK received 5% of the asylum applications lodged in the EU in 2017.
Q. Can asylum seekers work or claim benefits?
A. Asylum seekers are not allowed to claim benefits or work in the UK. If they are destitute and have no other means of supporting themselves, they can apply to receive asylum support. This is set at around £5.39 per day.
Q. What happens to someone when they get refugee status?
A. When a person is given refugee status, they have just 28 days to find accommodation and apply for mainstream benefits before they are evicted from asylum accommodation. Many refugees become homeless at this stage.https://www.refugee-action.org.uk/about/facts-about-refugees/
Since I started this blog, back in 2012, I’ve given myself the challenge to publish something every day during Refugee Week addressing some aspect of the refugee crisis past and present, in all parts of the world. There are so many stories, and no matter how many Refugee Weeks come around, there seems little prospect that one year I will find there is nothing to say.
This year’s theme sets me a different kind of challenge, however. Many of my posts over the years have focused on the past – specifically on the refugees escaping Nazi genocide, whether through the Kindertransport or the activities of the AAC, or through the actions of individuals such as Varian Fry or communities such as Le Chambon sur Lignon. Which is fine, and I will be revisiting some of those topics this week. But the theme is ‘our shared future’, and I don’t want to neglect that.
There are as always many examples of generosity and hospitality being shown to refugees, by organisations and individuals.
In Edinburgh, Dr Amer Masri and Nadin Akta, both refugees from Syria who came here in 2011, have worked with the University’s Chaplain and student volunteers to support newly-arrived Syrian teenagers. The Teenage Syrian Refugee Tutoring pilot project aims to help with the disorientation and sense of isolation that the new arrivals will experience. The programme is focused specifically on the needs of young people, fitting in to school, making decisions about their futures and facing the kinds of challenge that are common to their age group but with the added pressure of cultural and language barriers and the trauma of their past experiences.
Meanwhile in Madrid, a project linking refugees with local mentors has been overwhelmed with volunteers. Rescate ‘s befriending programme again helps to address the disorientation and isolation that refugees face, as well as working with them to solve practical problems about housing and education, finding their way through the system to access the help they need.
But it is not just a one-way process.
Liverpool-based rapper Farhood fled his home country Iran after facing persecution as a result of his political activism. He will play M.I.A.’s Meltdown festival at Southbank Centre, London, 9-18 June, and launch Refugee Week on 18 June.
Across the world there are thousands of people who are displaced and seen as just migrants, not people with skills, abilities, talents and stories. I want to help change this situation. I want to help change the way we think and talk about this global crisis. Whose crisis is it anyway? Crises for Europe and the developed world which needs to ‘cope’ with refugees? Refugees in the UK are facing harder times now, with issues like Brexit and racism, and I want to show them hope in the face of depression, which I experience myself. … It shows that a refugee can make a transition, from being unheard in a prison in the UK to a point where I can talk about the problems in Iran and the UK to the world. I can be a voice for the voiceless.
Online magazine Vice has just published an issue edited by young refugees from across Europe. They’re not talking about being refugees, or at least not just that.
Vice’s editor says:
We wanted to show that just like all our writers and every single neighbour you’ve ever had, these young people have multifaceted personalities that cannot be defined merely by them being refugees.
The result is a collection of 16 articles that today we are publishing simultaneously in 12 languages and 14 European territories, in collaboration with UNHCR. Highlights include How to Be Fashionable on a Budget, All the Gaffes I’ve Made Since Arriving to the UK and A Playlist of the Songs I Listened to While Trying to Get from Syria to Europe.
And poet Malka Al-Haddad is crowd-funding publication of a collection of her work which she hopes will raise funds for Baobab Women’s Project in Birmingham, Leicester City of Sanctuary and East Lindsey Area of Sanctuary.
I know that there are many people that need help and this what they do. Therefore I’m willing to support them. I would like to help people as much as I can, that is my love, it makes me feel like a better person, I want to help the community in some way …. When I was in Iraq I was working very hard to get good salary to support disadvantaged people and protect women’s rights. I am now in the UK but I can not earn money or have job because I have not been recognised as a refugee. I’m glad that I have written a poetry book that, I hope, will go on to raise some funding to these small charities/organisation that support refugees and asylum seekers. They aim to make individuals’ participation positive and help people be themselves again after they lost hope and their home land.
Once we see refugees not as ‘other’, but as people like us, ordinary people (if there is such a thing) whose circumstances happen to be extraordinary and traumatic, we should not be surprised when they are not only refugees but also poets, musicians, artists, engineers, lawyers, writers, footballers, nurses, teachers and so on. Whilst they are in flight, it may be impossible to be anything other than a refugee, but what people will hope for, long for, is the chance to be those other things, to find others in their new home with whom they can share their interests and skills. As Malka says, to be themselves again.
That way, we all win.
One person in 113 worldwide is displaced from home due to conflict or persecution. That’s the highest it’s ever been. We’re talking about forced displacement, not people choosing to leave home because they fancy a better life somewhere else. Warsan Shire’s poem expresses this with immense power:
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
The UNHCR says that Syria at 4.9 million, Afghanistan at 2.7 million and Somalia at 1.1 million together accounted for more than half the refugees under its mandate worldwide. Colombia at 6.9 million, Syria at 6.6 million and Iraq at 4.4 million had the largest numbers of internally displaced people.
Commentators have often shown an uncanny ability to scan the faces of the people in the boats or waiting at border posts and determine where they have come from, and then to use these conclusions to argue that they are not ‘genuine’ refugees but economic migrants. Better to turn to the data gathered by UNHCR.
These tell us that the countries producing the highest number of refugees are, in order,
One does not have to be an expert on world affairs to be aware that the majority of these countries are, and in some cases have been for many years, riven by vicious civil wars, often spilling over into neighbouring countries. The accusation that the young males amongst the refugees should be fighting for their country is nonsensical in these chaotic and volatile situations – who should they be fighting with, or against? An oppressive government or an extremist rebel force? Often both official and unofficial forces bolster their fighting strength by forcing boys and young men to join them. In Sudan and CAR there has been at least the threat of genocide, in DRC disease and famine as well horrific violence and rape on an unthinkable scale. In addition, IS and its affiliates are active in many of these areas.
Given all that, why do we even wonder about the motivations of those who flee?
The other accusation that is often made is that ‘they’ should have sought refuge in neighbouring countries – the nearest safe place – rather than heading to Europe. Most do. In all, 86 per cent of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate in 2015 were in low- and middle-income countries close to situations of conflict. Worldwide, Turkey was the biggest host country, with 2.5 million refugees. With nearly one refugee for every five citizens, Lebanon hosted more refugees compared to its population than any other country.
But in these countries, those who have fled genocide, famine, war and persecution find themselves in refugee camps. These are, by definition if not in practice, temporary holding spaces, transitory, a stop along the road to a place to call home. They are likely to be desperately short of food and medical supplies, sanitation is often rudimentary at best, and there is little prospect of education for the children. Many of the countries that host most of the world’s refugees are barely able to support their own citizens. When we say we are full or that we do not have the resources to support a pitifully tiny percentage of the desperate displaced people who need our help, we are demonstrating our own complacency and ignorance.
Here in Europe we can afford to feed, clothe, house and heal our own AND more. The statistics tell us that we are not doing our bit, nowhere near.
Migration Matters Festival – Thursday 23 June
Verse Matters – a Feminist Arts Event (19.30 pm) An inclusive, supportive space for poetry, spoken word, storytelling, music and comedy. Performers include Khadijah Ibrahim, Rae Burgess and Chijioke Ojukwu.