Activists slam government failure on 65th anniversary of Refugee Convention

The world is facing the most severe refugee crisis in the convention's history


On 28 July 1951, 19 governments signed the Refugee Convention, which sets out the rights of those granted asylum and the responsibilities of the receiving nations.

Today, on the convention’s 65th anniversary, human rights organisations have slammed the government’s failure to tackle the greatest refugee crisis since the second world war.

‘The last time Europe faced challenges of movement on this scale, Churchill and other European leaders signed the landmark Refugee Convention promising to help refugees fleeing war and persecution,’ commented ActionAid’s head of humanitarian response, Mike Noyes. ‘Today’s European leaders are ripping it up.’

He continued:

“In the desperation to seal their borders European leaders have passed agreements with repressive regimes instead of protecting women, men and children fleeing from war. Shirking their responsibilities by signing up to the potentially illegal EU-Turkey deal and sending refugees back to a country which is not safe.

“The UK and European governments have so far failed to take in their fair share of refugees, and as reports this week show, fundamentally failed to receive and protect thousands of refugee children. Today must serve as a wake-up call, we made a commitment 65 years ago to support people fleeing danger and if we don’t honour this commitment history will judge us.”

The EU-Turkey deal is widely considered to be in breach of the convention, since asylum seekers’ claims are not individually assessed before they are returned to Turkey, as the convention requires.

There are also serious questions about whether Turkey can be considered a ‘safe third country’, particularly given President Erdogan’s crackdown on human rights following the failed coup a fortnight ago.

Rachel Robinson, a policy officer at Liberty, used the anniversary to draw further attention to the issue of unaccompanied child migrants in Europe, 10,000 of whom are missing.

In a blog for the Huffington Post she wrote:

“When the UK signed up to the Refugee Convention all those years ago, it was an affirmation and recognition of common humanity – a demonstration of our willingness to share responsibility to protect fellow humans in the most desperate need of sanctuary.

There are children disappearing on our doorstep – vanishing into a nightmare of exploitation, slavery, sexual abuse. We can help – and we must press our Government to make sure we do.”

Earlier this week, a Lords committee published a report outlining European government’s continued failure of child refugees. And, as Sian Berry wrote for Left Foot Forward earlier this week, there is little sign that things will improve now that Theresa May has taken over from David Cameron.

Already, the prime minister has abolished the ministerial post for Syrian refugees, and closed a specialist centre for housing families facing deportation.

She has also, in the past, advocated for renegotiating the refugee convention in order to narrow the legal definition of refugees and asylum seekers.

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