Can International Law Come To The Aid Of Refugees?
The image of a little boy covered in blood and dust sitting in shock has shaken the conscience of the world recently. The boy, a victim of bombing in Syria, has once again brought to the forefront the issue of war refugees. Find out best lenderliabilitylawyer here.
Some months back, a picture of yet another little boy wearing a red t-shirt and lying dead face down on a beach woke us all up to the tragedy of hopes and lives lost by bloody and meaningless wars.
These are just a few incidences of the horrible plight of war refugees that have shown up in the media. There are thousands of such stories that one doesn’t hear of. It is evident that the refugee crises has risen to monumental proportions of late.
While some war or the other has always been happening at one part of the world or the other and war refugees have always found it a nightmare, the number of war refugees have simply swelled of late.
What does the law say about refugees?
It is no surprise that conditions in refugee camps are far from satisfactory. Supplies are low, illnesses are rampant, overcrowding and sanitation are major concerns and there is almost always a deficit in help and medical aid.
Several families find themselves suddenly uprooted from their homes and living in rather pitiable conditions with a bleak future ahead of them. It is a sad situation undoubtedly. Many have lost near and dear ones and many have no chance of ever being able to get back to their familiar lives.
But what is even sadder is that according to the international refugee law, no host country is compelled to offer support to refugees. While the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has laid out guidelines and definitions for identification of refugees, the law concerning refugees does not quantify or elaborate what sort of aid is supposed to be offered to war refugees.
The decision to support the refugees or not to support them is largely left to the discretion of the governments of the countries. This means that the refugees are basically left to the mercies of the whims and fancies of the political parties of the host countries – a pathetic state of affairs to be brutally honest.
The Principle of Non-Refoulement – a bright point
However, it must be pointed out that according to the Principle of Non-Refoulement which is part of the Refugee Convention, people who are declared to be refugees cannot be forced to go back to the places from which they escaped in the first place.
In some instances they can be moved to another country if the current host country is not willing to retain them, but they cannot be sent back to the country from which they originated. This is widely accepted in most of the international human rights treaties as well.
Do we owe a moral obligation to humanity?
While international law might be unclear about helping refugees, surely governments all over the world must have a moral obligation towards refugees. With a well-established framework for refugee welfare, the state of the victims of war can be improved greatly.
In turn, people who have been given a fresh lease of life will turn out to be law-abiding and sincere citizens who will look forward to giving back to the country which gave them a second chance. In fact according to statistics, the fear that refugees would cause law and order problems is based on unfounded myths.
A number of crimes that are reported have nothing to do with refugees at all. The percentage of refugees who actually get involved in unlawful activities is far less than what is imagined by the public.
When even countries of the developing world such as India have set up a bare minimal support framework for refugees – a case in point being the refugee integration programs developed for the sake of refugee Tamils from the Sri Lankan civil war – surely countries from the developed world could do so much more in places of unrest.
Laws for refugee welfare
While the international law on refugees has undergone several iterations over the past decades, there is scope for more improvement based on humanitarian necessities. Admittedly this is not a simple task, although the foundation has been laid in the form of laws such as the International Humanitarian Law, which aims to provide assistance to those who are in need.
History has given us enough evidence to believe that all over the world immigrants have done a lot for their adopted countries be it in the field of science, technology, literature, medicine, education or even art. Indeed some of the greatest achievers of our world have been immigrants who were welcomed by their host countries.
Laws exist to maintain peace and to support people. The weaker sections of our society who are already in a helpless state should be able to find some strength in the law instead of being persecuted, hounded or ignored by it.