|World Refugee Day on 20th June calls for action|
The World Refugee Day on June 20th, of course, is neither a celebration nor a commemoration. It is a global call for action. Ever since the UN designated the 20th of June as the World Refugee Day this call for action has had an imminent urgency. This is no different in 2010. The most recent events in the south of Kyrgyzstan have once again shocked the conscience of mankind as reports of killings and displacement as well as pictures of dead bodies, destroyed property, refugee camps and camps for the internally displaced have appeared in the media.
Neither the government of Kyrgyzstan nor humanitarian aid organizations were prepared for this humanitarian catastrophe. A coordinated response is hard to implement as perplexity prevails – it has not yet become sufficiently clear what triggered the unrest and who the driving forces behind the violence are. Between seventy five and one hundred thousand ethnic Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan found refuge in Uzbekistan, but the capacities of the poor neighbor are limited and entry is denied for an even greater number of ethnic Uzbeks that have fled their homes in Kyrgyzstan. The interim government of Kyrgyzstan has acknowledged the gravity of the events in the south and requested the military assistance of Russia. The OSCE has described the situation as an attempt to ethnic cleansing and urges for a UN Security Council Resolution. The current political see-saw prevents immediate action. UNHCR and the ICRC have meanwhile resumed work and distribute aid to fleeing families under sensitive security conditions.
The conflict in Kyrgyzstan is quite illustrative of the complexity of 21st century conflicts and the challenges they impose on the international community. Opinions part on the issue of humanitarian intervention. Likewise the quest for an adequate legal response to the plight of refugees and IDPs keeps politicians and academics busy. While asylum seekers around the world struggle with often harsh asylum policies and even harsher enforcement practices, internally displaced often find themselves in yet more destitute positions. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defines who is to be considered a refugee and should be granted the protection of another state. The UN’s non-binding Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement lay down the responsibility of states for the protection of all persons under their jurisdiction from displacement, their responsibilities for protection and humanitarian assistance during displacement, and basic responsibilities with regard to the return, resettlement and reintegration of IDPs. In addition, international Human Rights Law applies and possibly Humanitarian Law.
However, when states fail to fulfill their international obligations, IDPs have to wait until political deals have been struck so that the international community can step in. A whole cluster of humanitarian aid organizations is prepared to do so. In Darfur humanitarian corridors had to be negotiated before help reached those in desperate need of shelter and food. In Kyrgyzstan forty thousand people remain without shelter and security cannot be guaranteed for those who come to help. The representative of the UN Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons has identified the major challenges in relation to internal displacement in 2010 in his annual report. Some of these challenges are to work with states to assume their responsibilities towards the displaced, ensuring accountability for arbitrary displacement and to overcome the policies of protracted displacement. Protracted displacement often leaves big groups of the population at its most vulnerable and can become an inhibiting factor to the resolution of conflict and potentially trigger vicious circles of violence or political deadlock. How can the international community address the full spectrum of concerns of refugees and IDPs in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere in order to avoid yet more precarious political situations and human suffering? The World Refugee Day calls for action and it calls on everybody to tackle these challenges.
In 2009 the Åland Islands Peace Institute seized the opportunity provided by the World Refugee Day to draw attention to refugees living on Åland. Read the article here.
Sarah Stephan, researcher and project manager at the Åland Islands Peace Institute
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