Refugee Definition Development in the 20th Century
Definitions are very important, and the term refugee has had its definition evolving over time. It is a term that has been used since time immemorial. A refugee is any person who leaves his or her country of origin due to circumstances beyond their control. They are forced to leave, unlike migrants who do so willingly. The refugee may opt to leave because of persecution or when their lives are threatened; thus, they seek asylum in other countries. When Europe became weaker and could no longer hold on to their colonies, they said that the term refugee should only apply to people who have been compelled to leave due to occupation or internal insecurity in their country. When a refugee seeks asylum, they should not be forced to return to their country against their will. People who flee their country should be given asylum because they have a right to be protected from harm.
Due to the changes in migration rules and availability of scarce resources, it is important to distinguish who is a refugee and who is not. This term is a privilege that allows a person to be accepted and allowed to use resources in another country.
The 1951 convention said that for one to qualify as a refugee when they leave their country because of political events, then this must be because of persecution or threat of persecution towards him or herself or members of the society they come from. This followed the UN High Commissioner for refugees who pointed out threat just because someone leaves his country because he or she does not agree with the political events it does not give him the right to be conferred the term refugee. The term applied to persons who had become refugees before 1951 only.
The convention came when there was a critical problem of refugees after World War II. There were so many refugees who were settled and many more from the postliberation conflicts, e.g., in Greek and Southern Europe. There were other refugees from the Nazi regimes who were not considered “innocent victims,” thus the need for redefinition of the term refugee.
The UN refugee Protocol of 4th October 1967 was adopted because the new types of refugees had risen. Therefore, it was important to change the convention to accommodate the new refugees. This meant that states would treat all refugees according to the definition of the 1951 Convention without the date limitation. However, the Protocol is independent of the convention.
The 1969 OAU Convention defines a refugee as a person who has founded reasons for fear of persecution due to their race, religion, and nationality are forced out of their country and are unwilling to return to their country of origin. The convention also defined internally displaced persons as people who have been forced to abandon their homes due to conflicts or violence in their country. They seek refuge within their country. Statelessness was also defined as the state of belonging to no country. Such kinds of people are also considered refugees.
The 1984 Cartagena Declaration on refugees was adopted to encourage accession to the 1951 convention and 1967 Protocol and to withdraw reservations against refugees. Asylum seekers should not be discriminated against on the basis of their political inclinations. Rather they should be granted asylum on humanitarian grounds. The declaration was to promote the protection of refugees in refugee camps. They should also be provided with projects to help in self-sustenance and should be helped to integrate into the host society.
The refugees should not be forced to go to a third country against their will, and they should also not be forced to return home. The changes had occurred due to the changes taking place in the world, especially after the Second World War and the cold war when there was an influx of refugees due to conflicts taking place. During the cold war, many conflicts took place between the allies of Russia, the former Soviet Union and the United States. This resulted in people being displaced, and this situation needed to be addressed, thus the evolution of the definition of the term refugee to incorporate the emerging types of refugees and to serve the changing political arena.