Who is a refugee?

  •  Why do government officials claim that so many people applying for asylum are not “real” refugees?
  • Where, then, are the 17 million, whom the UN now estimates to be “refugees” in fact, according to official international criteria?
  • Who is a “real” refugee?

What is a refugee?

Technically speaking, a refugee is any person who is outside their country of origin, for specific reasons:

That is, because of human rights abuse which they have suffered, due to their race, religion, gender, political beliefs, etc.

The Geneva Convention & international law

This definition of a refugee stems from the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees (known as the Geneva Convention.) In the wake of World War II, there were multitudes of displaced people around the world. Many were stranded outside their own country. Many could not return to their homes. National institutions had fallen, authorities were in disarray; so that identity papers and passports were often unobtainable.

These many surviving victims of the war were often subject to discrimination. They might be criminalized, simply for being alive in the place where the war had dropped them. Racist and xenophobic violence was frequent.

The Geneva Convention was created in response to this international crisis. It is a very short, simple document. It specifies simply that anyone outside their own country for the specific reasons stated above (known as “Convention reasons”) is to be treated exactly as a citizen of whatever country they find themselves in. (That is, provided it is a country which is signed on to this Convention.)

National asylum systems

The signatories of the Geneva Convention are under an obligation to abide by those stipulations. But national governments require the international Convention to be reflected in national law. So each country signed on has created its own domestic law, specifying precisely how the Convention is to be fulfilled in that country: what agency will be in charge of refugees, what are their obligations etc.

The international refugee crisis

Since the 1990s, a new international refugee crisis has been growing and spreading, all over the world. Wars between nations, civil conflicts, corrupt regimes, the collapse of systems, predatory governments and failed states have made refugees of 17 million people worldwide.

This has resulted in an influx in the numbers of people applying for asylum. Many risk their lives to reach some shore where asylum might be found. Many die trying.

Agendas to minimize the official refugee count

These increased numbers have changed the legal landscape. Countries which never before had an asylum policy have been obliged (often by litigation) to create one.

This has entailed an ever-growing body of ever-more complex legal codes concerning asylum. All of these are couched in a language of compliance with human rights standards; yet they are, at bottom, created for one purpose: to screen asylum applicants through a complicated process of elimination. There are a number of reasons for doing so; some of them perfectly legitimate.

However, this is an environment which fosters abuse:

  • ·where the power of life or death is wielded by a handful of privileged Western bureaucrats;
  • where there is unbridgeable disparity between powerful decision-makers and desperate applicants.
  • disabled by formidable language barriers, such applicants are effectively without rights,
  • except what those decision-makers condescend to grant them.

Financial factors alone, assure that host countries have a fiscal interest in denying “refugee status” to as many applicants as possible.

Secret agendas

Yet more sinister motives exist, for denial in asylum authorities.

Covering up human rights crime
Refugees are victims of international human rights crime. These include genocide and war crimes. To apply for asylum is to report such crimes.

When people are refused asylum, the crimes they reported officially disappear. The victims disappear.

This is very convenient for the criminals: that is, for those entities who have turned 17 million people worldwide into refugees.

Political motives
Political concerns also play a role in the treatment of refugees. Governments tend to be more willing to recognize refugees, (and therefore to recognize the existence of human rights abuse,) when they come from countries who are not their allies.

Governments may, on the other hand, be entirely unwilling to recognize refugees who come from a country they consider “friendly”, a political ally, or financial creditor: because to do so would be to recognize that their political allies are human rights violators.

This is a particular problem for refugees from the US. Many countries are dependent on their economic relationship with the US. The Bush Administration aggressively exploited such ties to actively intimidate governments who tried to prosecute human rights abuse by Americans.

Human warehousing
A large percentage of asylum applicants languish for years in a legal limbo, awaiting the resolution of their asylum claim. They may be prohibited, under the harshest penalties, from work or from seeking employment, restricted to a meagre social allowance. Some may even be imprisoned, not only without trial, but without even being suspected of any offence.

Why have governments spent billions maintaining this practice?

This kind of human warehousing can be very convenient for corporate buyers of cheap foreign labour. Such corporate elements may have powerful allies in government.

People who are desperate, homeless, in fear for their lives, and practically without legal rights, are more easily exploited, than those who have legal status, fair employment, and a life of their own.