Who Is a Refugee? Why They Need Protection


By Nkrumah Mushelenga Refugee status, on the universal level, is governed by the 1951 Convention, the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees and the OAU Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. These two international legal instruments are applicable to persons who are refugees as therein defined. The assessment as to who is a refugee, or the determination of refugee status under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, and the OAU Convention is incumbent upon the Contracting States in whose territory the refugee applies for recognition of refugee status. According to article 1A (2) of the 1951 Convention, the term “refugee” shall apply to any person who, owing to well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons 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 unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country, or who, not having a nationality and being outside of his former habitual residence. as a result of such events, is unable or owing to such fear unwilling to return. Meanwhile, the OAU Convention defined the term “refugee” to mean every person who, owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, nationality, membership of a political social group or political opinion is outside the country of his her nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself/ herself of 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 or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it. According to article1A (2) of the 1969 Convention, the term “refugee” shall also apply to every person who, owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his or her country of origin, or nationality, is compelled to leave his place of habitual residence in order to seek refuge in another place outside his country of origin or nationality. The phrase “well-founded fear of being persecuted” is the key phrase of the definition Why should refugees be protected under international conventions? Because, apart from being socially and economically marginalized, refugees/asylum seekers are human beings whose fundamental human rights were forcefully displaced, i.e., the right to life, to liberty to dignity, to labour, from discrimination, arrest and detention, to fair trial, to privacy to family unification. Refugee children grow up in poverty environments and living conditions, and with no right to proper education, poverty is the order of the day. Their rights to culture and education are daily violated with impunity In view of the fact that at international level, the movements of refugees are characterized by forcefully displacements through premeditated persecution methods, both the 1951 Convention, the 1967 Protocol and the OAU Convention provide for co-operation between the contracting states and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This co-operation extends to the determination of refugee status, according to arrangements made in various contracting states. Member states are obliged to treat refugees within the framework of international conventions and contracting states’ refugee related legal instruments. Refugees are marginalized human beings who can be easily abused, exploited and used for slavery if not legally protected by the hosting state. Xenophobia/globalization and Regional Economic Integration A little knowledge is dangerous in a well-informed society. Much has been said about xenophobic attitudes towards refugees/asylum seekers in countries and regions in which refugees are hosted. Some members of the community feel that refugees/asylum seekers are taking over what is rightfully theirs – i.e. employment, study and business opportunities. It is a pity that while advocating globalization and regional economic integration, some of our leaders are promoting xenophobic attitudes towards non-nationals legally residing in this country. It should also be emphasized that Namibia is part of the international community, and as such, Namibia cannot develop her economic sectors in isolation. Brain Drain There is a saying: “History is the best judge whose verdict cannot be ignored.” The past history of this country is characterized by the policy of divide and rule. A system in which the majority of people of this country were legally marginalized, in which Bantu education was imposed on our people as a long-term guarantee to white supremacy. Gone are the days in which monopolization of the country’s economic sectors was institutionalized in the hands of the few. It is fact that Namibia, like any other country which fought and liberated herself from colonial oppression, did experience a brain drain during independence when most of those who were in key colonial government economic sectors deported themselves back to South Africa. The brain drain has push-and-pull factors. Now that globalization and regional integration are accepted at international level, as a key factor to economic development and cultural enrichment Namibia needs to take a position regarding the use of the existing locally based untapped refugee skills for the growth of this country’s economy. The reality of the situation is that refugees/asylum seekers if they are professionals registered by the contracting state can make a meaningful contribution to both the economic growth and the social upliftment of the people of that particular country. Refugee populations consisting of professors, doctors, scientist, engineers, businessmen/ women, just to mention a few. In order to reverse the brain drain trends in Africa in general and Namibia in particular, we should make use of the potentiality possessed by refugee communities in our country. In that way, the refugee commissioner needs to do more on educating our nationals to acknowledge the economic potentiality of utilizing skills and knowledge locally for the growth of the country’s economy. The Namibian government through the Refugee Directorate is prepared and committed to find a unified approach based on operational standards that set standard generic processes.

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