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UNHCR in T&T looks into plight of asylum seekers

Published: 
Monday, June 18, 2018
UNHCR Associate Public Information Officer Sibylla Brodzinsky

The total number of men, women and children displaced by war, persecution and discrimination around the world in 2016, was approximately 65.6 million.

Of this number, 22.5 million were refugees,2.8 million were asylum seekers, 40.3 million were Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs); and ten million were declared stateless people.

Confirming the figures last Wednesday, officials at T&T’s United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) painted a grim picture as they said the situation had worsened since then.

With updated statistics to be released later this week, officials described it as a, “Continuing crisis over the world.”

At a workshop last week, UNHCR Associate Public Information Officer Sibylla Brodzinsky sought to drive home just how dire the situation had become.

“Every two seconds, one person is displaced in the world,” she said.

She said in the first half of 2017, 6.5 million people around the world had fled their homes.

Urging persons to be mindful of the terminology used to describe these persons, Brodzinsky said a refugee is someone forced to flee his or her home country and who feared persecution based on one of five grounds—race, religion, nationality, political opinion, membership in a particular social group. A migrant, on the other hand, is someone who has left their country freely and not because of a direct threat or violence.

An asylum seeker is someone who has fled their country and whose claim to refugee status is being assessed. This group is considered to have the same international protection needs as a refugee and when there is a mass influx, refugee status can be automatic or prima facie.

Other persons of concern (POCs) include a stateless person who is not considered a citizen or national of any country, while internally displaced persons (IDPs) are those who have been forced to flee but remain inside their own country.

Brodzinsky said under the 1951 Refugee Convention, the primary obligation of States is to not send refugees back to the country of persecution.

Pointing to the legislative protection afforded to persons via the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, Brodzinsky revealed that they had appealed to Government to apply this in instances where refugees and asylum seekers entered T&T. Unwilling to delve too deeply into the Venezuela situation, Brodzinsky said since 2014, 1.5 million have fled that country.

Having made a supplementary appeal for $46 million address this crisis, Brodzinsky said $9 million was allocated for the Caribbean region alone.

In T&T, the UNHCR and Government have started working even closer to address the influx of persons coming into this country.

Brodzinsky said this strengthened relationship had led to a more structured and phased manner in which refugees, migrants and asylum seekers were being documented and assisted.

The Cartagena Declaration

The Cartagena Declaration is a non-binding regional, i.e. Latin-American, instrument for the protection of refugees and was adopted in 1984 by delegates from ten Latin-American countries including Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela. It has been incorporated in national laws and state practice of 14 countries.

The declaration is the result of a Colloquium on International Protection for Refugees and Displaced Persons in Central America, Mexico and Panama held in Cartagena, Colombia from November 19 - 22, 1984.

It reaffirms the importance of the right to asylum, the principle of non-refoulement, and the importance of finding durable solutions.

Non-refoulement is a fundamental principle of international law that forbids a country receiving asylum seekers from returning them to a country in which they would be in likely danger of persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Unlike political asylum, which applies to those who can prove a well-grounded fear of persecution based on certain category of persons, non-refoulement refers to the generic repatriation of people, including refugees, into war zones and other disaster locales.

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