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     Today, the number of refugees and asylum seekers is ‘the highest level of displacement on record’ (UNHCR, 2017), with 65.6 million people forcibly displaced in the world. This is twenty people forcibly displaced every minute. The current crisis in the Mediterranean Sea and its impact on European politics has raised public concerns over the way refugees are treated and the international community’s ability to develop a coherent, effective answer to the situation. The 21st century will be a century of forced displacement, not only because of conflicts, but also because of climate change. To face this challenge, it is necessary to evaluate the way it has been addressed in international law up to this day and to discuss the limits of this legislation. Moreover, it is important to evaluate the impact of a human rights approach to this question and the need for a continued work on legal frameworks protecting refugees and asylum seekers.     Although the notion of refugee can be traced back to the second millennium BC with Hittite King stating that ‘To return a refugee from the land of the Hittites is not right’ (quoted in O’Byrne, 2003), the status of refugees and asylum seekers in international law has been deeply shaped by the post-WW2 world. Violence in the last century has led countries to rethink their responsibility towards people fleeing from persecutions. Legally speaking, a refugee, as defined by the UN Refugee Convention (1951) is ‘Any person who…as a result of events occurring before January 1951 and owing to well-founded fears of being persecuted for reason 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; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it’. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrined refugees and asylum seekers’ rights, stating that people have the right ‘to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state’, ‘to leave any country … and to return to his country’, ‘to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’ and that ‘No one shall be arbitrary deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality’. Moreover, the principle of non-refoulement guarantees that refugees are not returned to their country of origin. The 1951 Refugee Convention led to the creation of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure that international laws are respected. Regional conventions also exist, such as the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (1969) and the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees (1984).      Since the 1970s however, states have developed a more security-driven approach to the matter, using strategies to limit the number of refugees they have to host (Hurwitz, 2009), such as Safe Third Country (when a state denies refugee status to someone because that person could have be granted protection in another country), Readmission (when states agree to take back certain refugees), and Extraterritorial Processing (when the processing of applicants is carried out outside of the country’s borders). A notable case of Extraterritorial Processing is Australia’s so-called ‘Pacific Solution’. Launched in 2001, it has prevented hundreds of refugees to land on Australian territory as they were sent to offshore camps instead (Gibney, 2002). All these policies contradict the principles of burden-sharing and states’ obligations toward refugees, as well as creating problems within supervision processes in the EU and at the international level.     Consequently, reforms are needed to manage the situation more efficiently. The 1951 Refugee Convention was created for a situation that is now irrelevant, as refugees were fleeing communist Eastern Europe and were regarded as ‘symbols of the triumph of western values’ (Osturk and Soykan, 2016). They now come from other parts of the world and are seen as threats. Moreover, group recognition of refugee status is not planned by the Refugee Convention (1951), and the notion of individuality in the recognition of refugee status has become problematic in today’s mass-influx situation. Furthermore, there is no binding mechanism to force countries into reaching an agreement guaranteeing refugees’ rights and, although the legal and moral obligation to host people fleeing from violence is officially recognised by states, defining what counts as persecution is another problem. As a result, applicants often have to shape their painful situation into a story acceptable for immigration authorities (Bohmer and Schuman, 2008).     As Turk (2016) notes, the shift in the perception of refugees – they flee problems but are defined as being the problem themselves – raises concerns over the role allocated to the moral obligation of help and support. A human rights approach to the issue urges us no to forget that the very notion of asylum and refugee is profoundly linked to the post-WW2 world and that in light of the events that took place during the war they should be held as sacred. Moreover, the involvement of human rights organisations is crucial, alongside the work of local authorities and the private sector, in order for refugees to become active members of their host countries. Countries should see refugees as people who are going to stay and live within their borders and need to be treated with dignity and through international cooperation, and that security issues can go hand in hand with addressing the situation with humanity. With that in mind, the 2016 New York Declaration brought hope of a globally shared responsibility and more support for refugees and host countries. Moreover, it aims at improving refugees self-reliance, so they can gain more independence and contribute to their host society.     The rights of refugees and asylum seekers is a core topic in human rights and international law. Despite the current increase in the number of refugees and asylum seekers, these rights are not coercively guaranteed by the international community which is struggling to face the current situation. In order to overcome structural challenges to the granting of protection to applicants and prepare the world for the massive influx of displaced populations to come, it is crucial to combine a more comprehensive legislation with a renewed political will that places humans at the centre of its approach and collaborates with local institutions and refugees themselves in order to address the issue with both humanity and efficiency. 


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