Refugees' rights and opportunities 1

Refugees’ Rights and Opportunities Part I

Starting a new life with a background as a refugee can be quite difficult in some countries. Some see no other future than to be unemployed and live in a refugee camp. What needs and rights do people on the run have, and what challenges do the recipient countries have in fulfilling the rights in practice?

  • What kind of convention do refugees do justice to?
  • What kind of rights do refugees actually have?
  • What happens when conflicts become protracted?
  • And does the world community fall short?

There were almost 80 million people fleeing the world at the end of 2019. Most of these are internally displaced (fleeing their own countries), while 26 million have fled their homelands due to conflict, war or persecution. The latter are counted as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) .

The right to seek refuge in a safe city if a host is exposed to war or persecution is something most people support, and this right is enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. In other words, it is a human right to be able to seek protection in another country.

Most countries in the world have also signed the UN Refugee Convention , which guarantees fundamental rights to people on the run, but not all countries that have signed up to the order are as strict. Some of the countries in the world that have received the most refugees, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey and Bangladesh, have not even signed the Refugee Convention.

One of the most important principles in refugee policy is the non-refoulement principle . It says that no host should be sent back to their homeland if they risk being persecuted there. Many countries that have not ratified the Refugee Convention nevertheless follow the principle of non-refoulement; the refugees may not get the rights described in the convention, but it is accepted that they are in the country and that they are not sent back to where they fled from.

2: Right to basic needs for food and health

People fleeing war and persecution like to leave their homes, possessions and jobs in their home country. When they are going to start a life as a refugee abroad, they are therefore often on bare ground.

Some may have had time to plan their escape, and may have brought with them savings and important documents, such as passports and diplomas, but many have fled without ever taking the most necessary things with them.

Some hosts were forced to flee because their houses were bombed, and they came to their new homeland without other belongings than the clothes they have on their bodies. Others may not have understood the seriousness when they left, and thought they would only be awake for a couple of weeks (and pack for it), but experience that they still can not travel eighteen more years later.

According to, in countries that have ratified the Refugee Convention, refugees are entitled to social assistance and several other benefits in line with the citizens of the recipient country. But four out of five refugees live in a country that has problems with starvation or malnutrition in its own population, and where the citizens of the country do not receive social assistance or social security benefits either.

In acute crises, where a large number of people have been displaced due to acts of war, the international community therefore plays an important role in ensuring that the refugees who come get food and shelter. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees hires and coordinates international efforts to protect and assist refugees, but collaborates with other organizations, such as the World Food Program (which received the Peace Prize in 2020) and MSF (which received the Peace Prize in 1999) to ensure that the refugees are covered for basic needs.

3: The right to school and work

The Refugee Convention also states that refugees have the right to basic schooling for children, and the right to take up work in order to be able to support themselves. This is the right that it is more difficult for the international community to assist with, unless the recipient country wishes to give the refugees such rights. And often there is opposition to fulfilling such rights among the population of countries that receive many refugees.

If many new potential employees come to an area, they will want to compete for the same jobs as those who already lived there. This can lead to increased unemployment, and if there are no strong unions and laws that regulate working life, increased competition for jobs can lead to people having to be willing to work for lower wages and poorer working conditions – such as longer working days – to get a job.

Therefore, there are often demands from citizens in countries that receive many refugees, that the refugees should not be allowed to work, or that they should only be allowed to work in a few sectors. Some employers, on the other hand, may be happy to have access to cheap labor. In this way, productivity in some sectors can increase when large refugee traumas occur in a country.

Refugees' rights and opportunities 1

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