|The Courier N° 150 - March - April 1995 - Dossier: Refugees - Country Reports: The Bahamas, Guyana (EC Courier, 1995, 104 p.)|
by Philip Rudge
The European council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) is deeply concerned with the complexities of the world refugee situation. The need. for a broad range of measures to tackle its human and political din ensigns is now evident. The challenge to develop a comprehensive approach to the moral and practical issues is urgent: for the millions of individuals concerned, the human suffering involved is intolerable; for the emerging international order, the political challenge is immense.
Over the past 50 years, states have worked on the national level and increasingly through international institutions to develop laws and practices with the explicit objective of tackling refugee situations in the interests both of the human beings concerned and of the community of states The degree to which this has been successful reflects the reconciliation between the demands of humanitarian solidarity on the one hand and the interests of states on the other. This balance is delicate and continually changing; in the 1990s, the assertion of the principles of human solidarity has become imperative.
Until the 1980s, the protection and assistance of refugees in western Europe, while uneven and subject to foreign policy preferences of states, was not an issue which generally provoked great controversy, particularly when the number of asylum seekers was low and governments were able to count broadly upon the support of their electorates. Grave social and economic crises have come to dominate the political agenda throughout Europe, the number of asylum seekers has risen and sections of public opinion have become uncertain or hostile towards refugees or foreigners in general. The result is enormous pressure on what have been considered well-established human rights standards and humanitarian principles, including those upon which refugee protection depends.
Such is the position in Europe in the 1990s. European states will continue to receive refugees, possibly in greater numbers than hitherto seen, who are forced to move because they are the victims of massive violations of human rights. It is a tragic fact that levels of persecution remain high and human rights violations are widespread throughout the world Persecution of the individual or of entire groups of the population, armed conflict and civil war have, for decades, been the daily reality in many states. The consolidation process of many newly established states and the search for a national identity continue to cause internal conflicts which often result in breaches of even the most fundamental human rights. Serious violations are also evident in states whose political processes have become dominated by the excesses of religious and ethnic fundamentalism.
As well as the intolerant and repressive states whose official actions strike at the heart of the civil and political rights of their citizens, there are numerous other states that, for a variety of reasons, are unable to ensure the economic, social and cultural rights of their populations. The social disorder that often arises from discontent with poverty, hunger and deprivation frequently provokes governmental responses, leading to a spiral of further protest and ultimately in suppression The victims of this may be forced to seek a tolerable existence elsewhere, for example as de facto refugees. refugees with temporary protection status, and as refugees in the 'classic' sense of the word.
These situations are compounded further by other states which. for a combination of economic, political and military reasons, acquiesce in, or even promote, human rights violations. economic discrimination and civil strife In the face of such conditions the victims, be they individuals or groups, often find that they have no alternative but to flee their communities in order to sustain their life and liberty.
European resources will there fore continue to be called upon to contribute to the promotion of peaceful and sustainable development in all parts of the world, without which refugees will continue to flee ECRE's aims must be seen in the light of this basic proposition: that in order for refugees to feel confident that they can obtain the protection they need and for states to feel assured that there is a genuine international sharing of responsibility, it is indispensable to devise a coherent and comprehensive refugee policy for Europe, based on respect for well established human rights standards and principles of solidarity.
Many of the Cold War political assumptions that have long underpinned refugee protection in Europe are now redundant arid important new mechanisms of cooperation are evolving among states Action on behalf of refugees is part of the UN Agenda for Peace; it affects, in the widest sense, the agenda of the Organisation on Security and Cooperation in Europe, of the council of Europe and notably of the European Union. Within the European Commission and Parliament, asylum policy is subject to frequent and open discussion, whereas at the Justice and Home Affairs department of the Council, this subject is still being dealt with in an inter governmental way, a process which has attracted widespread criticism for its lack of democratic transparency and Judicial control.
The prevention of the conditions causing refugee movements demands from the international community a more vigorous implementation of transparent policies favouring global respect for human rights and peaceful and sustainable development. The treatment of the immense human distress facing refugees requires a generous humanitarian response and a more equitable system of shared responsibility in which the institution of asylum remains an important element, but only one among many.
In the face of growing migratory pressures of all kinds, governments and inter-governmental organisations will need to develop a more strategic view, based on the highest quality research and information Those persons and groups at risk must benefit from the full implementation of international standards and procedures relating to refugees; simultaneously a variety of migration policies will be needed to manage more effectively the movement of persons who leave their countries for non-refugee related reasons.
I he growing non-governmental movement in Europe will play an
increasingly important role in helping to devise, implement and explain the
refugee policies of the future. NGOs are already creating new alliances with
other parts of civil society, in particular in central and eastern Europe, to
promote tolerance, the respect for the rights of minorities and the peaceful
resolution of conflicts. New and more creative partnerships will be needed
between NGOs, UNHCR and key inter
governmental bodies with a direct concern for human rights and refugee protection
At the heart of this concern lies the need for a clear commitment by all states arid civil society to the universality of human rights and the inviolability of the human person. Refugees themselves and the whole system which supports the international protection of refugees throughout the world requires that a European refugee policy be based on that fundamental position.