Human Rights Issue: Asylum Seekers

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and right. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1.

These words affirmed the force of ideas and vision of respectful and peaceful coexistence in the aftermath of utter brutality and destruction. Human rights as entitlements of all people to claim freedom, equality, justice, and well-being gain their effect especially in hardships such as war, fear of persecution and unbearable living conditions. That is why human rights in respect to refugees and others seeking asylum poses on a higher ground in international human rights law.

The international refugee law codifies the rights that refugees are to enjoy and correlative obligations on states to respect, protect, and fulfil those rights. In this sense this characterizes as a specific regime for protection of a specific class of human beings – refugees.

In the immediate aftermath of WW2 legal framework was established for the protection of asylum seekers with the first legal document granting protection and expressing political asylum as a basic right.  Following the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, in 1951 the Refugee Convention was signed that would enable protection of even wider spectre of refugees as well as internally displaced persons with the 1967 Protocol. As these documents largely protect persons who have already gained the refugee status, the protection for those who have not applied for the status and for those who applied but await the conclusion of the procedure remained a problematic issue. Also the Convention has limited reach when it comes to victims of armed conflict and indiscriminate violence because the definition of a refugee in article 1A(2) is primarily individualistic and focuses on discriminatory acts of persecution based on specific grounds. Documents that followed the Refugee Convention such as ECHR, 1967 Protocol, EC Directive on Temporary Protection and Qualification Directive all strive to tackle this issue.

However, as can be seen from Regina v. Secretary of State for the Home Department case some countries fail to initiate appropriate national legislative measures to protect the refugees. In such instances, the international mechanisms come to life in order to give effect to the promised rights under the Treaties. As states are bound by the treaties to which they have given formal consent, derogation of the promised obligations give the affected individual the right to invoke measures in the International Court of Justice. However in many cases this includes highly costly procedures and trips which would weigh economically upon the victims of human right violations. Another problem in the refugee system is notwithstanding the non-refoulement principle, refugees may still be denied even temporary protection, safe return to their homes, or compensation. States however aren’t the only protectors of the asylum seekers; cross-border movement of refugees  activate the institutional responsibilities of organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Among all both legislative and institutional measures taken in order to protect masses of asylum seekers and migrants, as is evident from abovementioned reasons, the system of refugee law still remains an incomplete legal regime.