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Is the Definition of a Refugee Outdated?

Info: 3886 words (16 pages) Law Essay
Published: 7th Aug 2019

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Jurisdiction(s): International Law

Title of Assignment:  “The definition of a ‘refugee’ provided in the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is outdated and should be expanded to include persons in need of protection fleeing issues such as generalised violence, climate change and environmental threats, and economic hardship. Critically discuss.”


A refugee is a person who has been compelled to flee his or her nation in light of abuse, war or brutality. A displaced person has an all-around established dread of abuse for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political feeling or participation in a specific social gathering. In all likelihood, they can’t return home or are hesitant to do as such. War and ethnic, innate and religious savagery are driving reasons for refugees escaping their nations. 66% of all displaced people overall originate from only five nations: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

The 1951 Geneva Convention is the fundamental universal instrument of refugee law. The Convention obviously illuminates who an refugee is and the sort of legitimate security, other help and social rights he or she ought to get from the nations who have signed the document. The Convention additionally characterises an refugee’s commitments to have governments and certain classes or individuals, for example, war culprits, who don’t meet all requirements for refugee status. The Convention was restricted to ensuring principally European refugees in the outcome of World War II, however in another document, the 1967 Protocol, extended the extent of the Convention as the issue of dislodging spread far and wide.

The convention defines as a refugee a person under Article 1 A(2) as:

“(who) owing to (a) well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”[1]

A definition which is pertinent just to a predetermined gathering leaves little inquiry regarding who comes surprisingly close to eligibility. Inconstant events which could result in new gatherings of people getting to be eligible can be wiped out. A general definition of the expression “refugee” contains the danger of future unpredictability. What number of people or what compose may fall inside the individual extent of the definition and end up qualified for the advantages thereunder can’t be predicted.

Along these lines, each State, because of its land area, inner political piece, and national biases and theory, will respond to the subject of the displaced person in light of its parochial advantages. In the detailing of a worthy universal definition, each State will endeavour to secure its very own worries. The procedure of political bargain follows. Since the resultant definition must be satisfactory to a most extreme number of States, it fundamentally will be outlined in extension.

The definition contained in the Convention, with its limitations and alternatives, was the result of a political bargain. At the point when the drafters of the Convention characterised “‘refugee,” they intentionally endeavoured to create an item prone to be acknowledged by numerous Governments.

The Convention’s definition mirrored the experience of the previous thirty years and particularly the Second World War. Notwithstanding upgrades spoken to by the 1967 Protocol, the definition remains moderately narrow.

Other refugee definitions have since developed – for instance, those fused inside the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, adopted by the Organization of African Unity (1969) and the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees (1984). These are more extensive in degree and mirror the more mind-boggling reality of the conditions that power individuals to escape their homes than was caught by the Refugee Convention.[2]

The Commission of the European Community, noticing that in EU Member States an expanding level of candidates for exile status is given rather some other type of assurance, proposes: ‘This is most likely because of the way that an expanding offer of the present clashes and oppressions are not secured by the Convention’.

What’s more, lately, an ever-increasing number of individuals are uprooted, and compelled to move either inside or outside their nation, as a result of a dry spell or other outrageous climate conditions; arrive corruption and cataclysmic events. Such people fall outside the extent of the Refugee Convention.


It is fitting that amid 67 years of the 1951 Refugee Convention to check out what it has achieved in securing outcasts and others needing global insurance and to look at residual assurance holes. Tending to these gaps has been a repetitive subject for UNHCR since the start and an intrinsic piece of our command. Truth be told, the displaced person definition in UNHCR’s Statute was not constrained by time or geology, not at all like the refugee definition in the 1951 Convention. Subsequently, one of the significant issues confronting us has after some time been the division between the institutional duties presented on UNHCR and the commitments acknowledged by states. What exactly degree are there holes between the inclusion of existing global instruments and the more extensive classes of individuals likewise needing worldwide insurance? Furthermore, to the degree that there are holes, what should be done to fill them?

In the course of recent years, the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol have managed to give insurance to individuals escaping a wide exhibit of dangers in their nations of the root. Truth be told, these worldwide refugee instruments are something beyond legitimate writings. They have served to solidify and catalyse a remarkable philanthropic convention that has helped a huge number of defenceless individuals in danger. As Professor James Hathaway, creator of one of the fundamental works about refugee law put it, the authentic system of the Convention clarifies that it was intended to ensure people within vast groups whose dread of oppression is summed up, not simply the individuals who are in danger of particularised violence.[3]

The Convention and Protocol similarly mirror the acknowledgment that displaced person issues are of worldwide concern, that they include global obligations and make universal participation a need. The Convention structure sets out an expansive yet moderate arrangement of state duties. Its fundaments are unchallengeable and as basic today as they were in 1951. Nobody can challenge that individuals ought not come back to risk, that they ought not be victimised, that they ought to appreciate a base standard of treatment, for example, opportunity of development, fundamental wellbeing, social and monetary rights, and acknowledgment of personality and legitimate status, which is especially vital in a world that is so dependent on lawful character.

The errors between refugees perceived under the 1951 Convention from one perspective, and the more extensive gathering of people needing global security on the other, emerge to a limited extent from the manner by which the meaning of “refugee” in the 1951 Convention has been translated and connected by a few states, and to some degree from restrictions inborn in the instrument itself. After some time, these inconsistencies have been decreased through the appropriation of consequent worldwide and provincial refugee instruments, universal human rights and humanitarian law, and also state practice and law.

The meaning of the indiscriminate effects of generalized violence clearly states that these issues are not just a test to worldwide law and universal relations, but they additionally require to promote appearance in the lawful setting of uprooting. In my view, it will be helpful to devote some an opportunity to this developing inquiry of the changing idea of contention and viciousness and how it impacts on refugee protection. So what do we mean by “summed up brutality”, or the “aimless impacts of summed up violence”?

Aside from the well‐known models of circumstances of outfitted clash or summed up violence, there are other, maybe less obvious circumstances where brutality creates global insurance needs. While brutality may regularly appear at first glance to be general in nature, general in the feeling of being far-reaching, large‐scale and aimless, a more profound uncovering of the socio‐economic‐political setting may demonstrate that the circumstance in actuality includes numerous frequencies of particular focusing of specific people or gatherings. People might be focused on racial, ethnic, religious, political or social lines, or on the grounds that they are seen as restricting the gatherings in charge, or just to be a deterrent or obstacle by their essence.


Researchers progressively contend that one of the connections between environmental change and conflict is probably going to be relocation, especially at the local, intrastate level. Increase in temperature and precipitation may constrain individuals to leave their homes and, transcendently inside a nation, settle somewhere else. While nation particular investigations give proof to this example, the writing offers little direction, both hypothetically and observationally, on whether atmosphere trigger off relocation likewise happens between nations, i.e., universally. Analysing this issue appears to be vital as discovering proof for transnational natural relocation pushes the criticalness of this issue from a local to a worldwide, worldwide scale.

Environmental change doesn’t simply warm the air and dissolve ice sheets. It goes about as a “risk multiplier,” playing on the vulnerabilities of biological systems and networks in manners that we are yet to completely get it.

Relocation is a valid example: the way it’s changing and is anticipated to change, later on, features how the effects of environmental change on one place overflow to different parts of the world. Another examination in Science finds that as yields bomb in farming districts of the world, more individuals will look for asylum in Europe in the coming decades. if the current warming patterns were to proceed with, the examination predicts that by 2100 Europe will get around 660,000 additional candidates every year.

Wolfram Schlenker, of Columbia University, explains in his paper that according to the current temperature cycle, the situation could go either way. One way is that human could start adapting to the warmer temperatures so it doesn’t comes as a surprise and the impact would be reduced, but if this happens every year and people are exposed to shock with the same thing every year, the results will be much worse.

While our versatility as a species implies we can adjust to a lot of progress — by redesigning our foundation or rearing warmth safe products, among different activities — we too, in the long run, achieve a limit. New research in Environmental Research Letters finds that by 2100, rising temperatures joined with expanded dampness will make a few zones of the world dreadful for people.

The new examination maps the territories of the planet most in danger to encounter more prominent warmth as well as higher thickness of vapor noticeable all around. Among the locales liable to be influenced are the Amazon, western and focal Africa, northern India, eastern China and the south-eastern piece of the United States.

In spite of the fact that the science isn’t convincing, there is proof that environmental change-incited dry season (drought) may have worsened the social agitation that prompted probably the most ruthless clashes of this century, including the Syrian war. The investigation of extraordinary climate attribution is growing quick, yet there is as yet far to go before we can relate to sureness the pretended by environmental change in any outrageous occasion.

What researchers presently know is that what occurs in one specific piece of the planet will undoubtedly trigger a course of results that will be felt far away. These are ecological outcomes, as well as social, and will progressively include the development of expansive quantities of individuals. As mass movement is as of now causing strains everywhere throughout the world, pioneers should discover new procedures to deal with the developing traveller networks of things to come.

Environmental change is the eccentric fixing that, when added to existing social, financial and political strains, can possibly touch off brutality and struggle with deplorable outcomes. in spite of the fact that environmental change without a doubt represented an “existential danger to our reality” it is not too late to make conclusive move. Environmental change won’t pause. Neither can we. For atmosphere outcasts, tomorrow is past the point of no return.”

There are a couple of observational examinations of the connection between ecological change and movement, especially at the residential, inside nation level (e.g., Henry et al. 2004). In his investigation, Henry features on the outcome and firmly and heartily recommends that if the temperature keeps on ascending at the current rate, relocation isn’t just to happen at the residential level, however crosswise over nations. The discoveries additionally feature a huge contrast between the short-and-long haul impacts of temperature on resettlement. Given the outcomes of relocation at bigger scales, numerous nations will confront issues, and as his outcomes recommend by implication because of environmental change also. Existing investigations recommend that transnational relocation primarily happens because of financial reasons, yet there was no examination yet breaking down whether environmental change impacts universal movement designs.

A nation that is influenced by climatic changes won’t have the capacity to recoup because of the seriousness of the environmental change results (i.e., shrinking islands). That is, further research could move past the outcomes of atmosphere initiated inner relocation and look at further the atmosphere prompted transnational movement and its results. Another potential pathway to additionally inquire about is to inspect top to bottom where ecological exiles go to; do they deliberately search for an earth safe nation or do they pick along other nation qualities (i.e., monetary, social)? This could give researchers suggestions on the significance of environmental change and versatility for individuals influenced by environmental change.


From the snapshot of entry, displaced people rival the neighbourhood subjects for rare assets, for example, land, water, lodging, nourishment, and medicinal administrations. After some time, their essence prompts more generous requests on regular assets, training and wellbeing offices, vitality, transportation, social administrations and business. They may cause inflationary weights on costs and discourage compensation. In a few examples, they can altogether change the stream of merchandise and enterprises inside the general public in general and their essence may have suggestions for the host nation’s equalization of instalment and undermine auxiliary modification activities. Expanded development action results, however this is typically joined by increments in lease, profiting the individuals who are property proprietors, yet antagonistically influencing poor people and those on settled livelihoods, for example, government officers. Buy of substantial amounts of building material may make them rare or hopeless for neighbourhood individuals, while additionally producing inflationary impacts. In like manner, expanded interest for sustenance and different wares can prompt value ascends in the market which will animate neighbourhood monetary movement, once more, not profiting the poorest.

The nearness of a vast outcast populace in provincial zones definitely likewise implies a strain on the neighbourhood organisation. Host nation national and provincial specialists occupy extensive assets and labour from the squeezing requests of their own advancement to the dire assignment of keeping exiles alive, mitigating their sufferings and guaranteeing the security of the entire network. While most host governments, by and large, have exhibited a readiness to manage a considerable lot of these costs, they are naturally hesitant to pay, as a cost for giving asylum, the expense of extra foundation that might be expected to suit outcasts.

The monetary effect of refugees on host territories, be that as it may, isn’t really negative. A monetary boost might be produced by the nearness of outcasts and can prompt the opening and improvement of the host locales. This improvement happens, inter alia, through the nearby buy of sustenance, non-nourishment things, protect materials by offices providing alleviation things, distributions made by help specialists, the advantages brought by displaced people themselves, and in addition work and wage collected to neighbourhood population, specifically or by implication, through help ventures for outcast regions.

The presence of refugees also contributes to the creation of employment benefiting the local population, directly or indirectly. Moreover, relevant line departments involved in refugee work as counterparts to UNHCR, both at central and local levels, also benefit from UNHCR assistance aimed at strengthening their coping and management capacities. Such assistance may include equipment supply, capacity building and related training components.[4]

While it is perceived that there might be some “positive” perspectives to the effect of a displaced person convergence on the financial existence of a host nation, the expansive scale nearness of evacuees constantly comprises an overwhelming weight for accepting nations, especially LDCs.


The 1951 Convention has a proceeding with pertinence in securing refugees. All things considered, its job should be liable to normal audit, ‘to perceive and reaffirm its continuing qualities yet, in addition, to brace it with regards to the ‘outcast issue’ in the entirety of its measurements, where these are comprehended to incorporate asylum/relocation nexus issues and new drivers of removal.

The 1951 Convention was never expected to address movement issues. Its sole point was, and is, to secure refugees. The test is to discover other proficient systems to oversee monetary movement and keep up borderline security. These are authentic concerns however they should be precisely offset with the duty of states to ensure individuals escaping abuse.

It is important to understand that the refugee issue today is around the world, consistently expanding, and will be with us for an uncertain timeframe. This proposed widened meaning of displaced person criteria is vital on the off chance that we are to promptly adapt to these tragic casualties of foul play. The States of the global network must perceive their duty and provide to them with some timely help of outcasts in all classes made through the proposed expanded definition.

So from the above it can be summarised that the definition of a ‘refugee’ under the 1951 convention provides a narrow perspective upon the status of refugees. The definition should be broadened to include more protection issues such as generalised violence against refugees, Climate change and environmental threats such as droughts, floods, earthquakes, etc. and lastly economic hardships.


  1. Adamo SH Izazola, ‘Human Migration And The Environment’ (2010) 32 Population and Environment.
  2. Adger W and others, ‘Focus On Environmental Risks And Migration: Causes And Consequences’ (2015) 10 Environmental Research Letters.
  3. Hathaway, J.C., The Law of Refugee Status (Butterworths, 1991), p. 95.
  4. Hunter L, J LunaR Norton, ‘Environmental Dimensions Of Migration’ (2015) 41 Annual Review of Sociology.
  5. Romero Y, ‘The Refugee Convention Sixty Years On: Relevant Or Redundant?’ (Workingnotes.ie, 2018) <https://www.workingnotes.ie/item/the-refugee-convention-sixty-years-on-relevant-or-redundant> accessed 5 November 2018.
  6. Refugees U, ‘Social And Economic Impact Of Large Refugee Populations On Host Developing Countries’ (UNHCR, 2018) <http://www.unhcr.org/excom/standcom/3ae68d0e10/social-economic-impact-large-refugee-populations-host-developing-countries.html> accessed 5 November 2018.
  7. Salehyan I, ‘From Climate Change To Conflict? No Consensus Yet’ (2008) 45 Journal of Peace Research.
  8. Vanderkamp J, ‘Migration Flows, Their Determinants And The Effects Of Return Migration’ (1971) 79 Journal of Political Economy.
  9. Vidal J, ‘The Effect Of Emigration On Human Capital Formation’ (1998) 11 Journal of Population Economics.
  10. ‘The Problem With The 1951 Refugee Convention – Parliament Of Australia’ (Aph.gov.au,2018)<https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp0001/01RP05> accessed 5 November 2018.

[1] ‘The Problem With The 1951 Refugee Convention – Parliament Of Australia’ (Aph.gov.au, 2018)<https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp0001/01RP05> accessed 5 November 2018.

[2] Romero Y, ‘The Refugee Convention Sixty Years On: Relevant Or Redundant?’ (Workingnotes.ie, 2018) <https://www.workingnotes.ie/item/the-refugee-convention-sixty-years-on-relevant-or-redundant> accessed 5 November 2018.

[3] Hathaway, J.C., The Law of Refugee Status (Butterworths, 1991), p. 95.

[4] Refugees U, ‘Social And Economic Impact Of Large Refugee Populations On Host Developing Countries’ (UNHCR, 2018) <http://www.unhcr.org/excom/standcom/3ae68d0e10/social-economic-impact-large-refugee-populations-host-developing-countries.html> accessed 5 November 2018.

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