In this, the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on World Refugee Day, Amnesty International calls on states to reaffirm everyone’s right to seek and to enjoy asylum from persecution, as recognized in the words of article 14 of the UDHR. Almost two million Iraqi refugees, fleeing murder, kidnap, torture and ill treatment, are now living in Syria and Jordan. In the Mediterranean region, asylum-seekers and migrants continue to die in the sea in their desperate attempt to reach Europe.
These are two of the many refugee problems that confront the world today. Meanwhile, doors are being quietly closed. People fleeing Iraq now face visa restrictions as they try to enter Jordan and Syria. Sweden, host to the largest number of Iraqi refugees in Europe, has now changed its approach and is returning refugees to very dangerous areas of their home country. In the Mediterranean region, European Union countries such as Spain and Italy are involved with interception operations and joint migration control measures with countries in North and West Africa. People are being sent back to the terrible situations they were desperately trying to escape. International assistance for Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan is desperately needed, contributions to UN agencies working with refugees from Iraq inadequate. In May 2008, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) made a fresh appeal for increased funding for its Iraq work. They cited a shortfall of $127 million for assistance programmes without which essential health and food assistance programs may have to be reduced, forcing many Iraqis into further destitution and raising the likelihood of higher malnutrition rates and increased rise of child labour. A total of 147 states are parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention) or its Protocol – the main international instruments protecting refugees. Amnesty International calls for world governments to ensure that their actions and policies do not undermine the protection offered by the Convention and other international instruments. Amnesty International also believes that states should not only protect the rights of refugees within their jurisdiction but should also help other countries dealing with large scale refugee situations. Amnesty International calls on the European Union to fully respect its obligations towards refugees, by ensuring that its border controls do not directly, or indirectly, force asylum-seekers to return to transit countries where they would be at risk of arbitrary detention, collective expulsion, refoulement – – as in the case of a number of countries in North and West Africa – – even the risk of being dumped in the desert without food or water. The organization also calls on the European Union to ensure that in the development of its common asylum system, all asylum-seekers under the jurisdiction of its member states have access to fair and satisfactory asylum procedures regardless of their country of origin or transit, and that the use of inadequate accelerated asylum procedures is ended.
Amnesty International urges states to increase the use of resettlement as one of several responsibility-sharing tools to relieve the burden of receiving states and to provide refugees with a durable solution. For many refugees, it is the only way to ensure they have access to basic rights such as education, health care and adequate housing. For some, their illness, disability or trauma means they do not have access to adequate care in their countries of asylum. Only nine countries have traditionally had large resettlement programmes; these have been recently joined by developing countries such as Chile, Burkina Faso and Brazil, which have started to resettle small numbers of refugees. Amnesty International calls on other states to join this list. Finally, Amnesty International urges states, in cooperation with UNHCR, to develop an effective way of sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees, as and when urgent situations arise. The answer to this grievous problem cannot be to countenance human suffering and turn our backs on people in tragic circumstances. It is to take more responsibility for this global problem in a global way.