On July 28th, we observe the 65th anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly, of one of the most important humanitarian documents of the modern era—the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Better known as the 1951 Refugee Convention, it is a multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum.
The Refugee Convention is the first international agreement dealing with the most fundamental aspects of a refugee’s life, beginning with the requirement that signatory nations must protect all refugees that are on their territory. It also stipulates that refugees must be allowed certain freedoms, including the right to practice their religion, the right to work, and the right to acquire an education; they must be allowed access to travel documents, and should be allowed freedom of movement.
The UN Refugee Convention also emphasizes that refugees have certain obligations to the host government, such as to respect the laws and regulations of their country of asylum.
Most importantly, the Convention makes it very clear that a refugee may not be repatriated involuntarily to a country where he or she fears persecution.
The document stemmed from the refugee crisis of 1945, when over 40 million people who were displaced by the Second World War flooded Europe, in need of resettlement.
Today, we find ourselves in the midst of another refugee crisis, the largest the world has seen since the catastrophe that spurred the creation of the document in the first place. According to UNHCR estimates, more than 20 million people around the world meet the Convention’s definition of a refugee.
On this, the 65th anniversary of the signing of one of the cornerstone documents that defines our common humanity, let us not forget our history, and work toward never repeating it again. Let us open our hearts to refugees wherever they are, help however and whenever we can, until such a time that they can make their way back home.