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WRC Marks 70th Anniversary of UN Refugee Convention

NEW YORK, NY – Today marks the 70th anniversary of the formal adoption of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention). While the original Refugee Convention came about to support refugees in Europe after World War II, its purpose and scope have grown over the decades to shed geographic limitations and apply to all persons seeking refuge from persecution on specific grounds. The Convention provides an internationally agreed upon definition of “refugee” and outlines the rights and obligations between host countries and refugees, making it an instrument with enduring relevance given ongoing displacement.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2020 as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, and human rights violations. In 2021, 235 million people will require humanitarian assistance and protection, a significant rise in global humanitarian need since the end of 2019. While third-country resettlement is often a last resort as a durable solution, it can be a critical lifeline for particularly vulnerable refugees – yet in 2020, only 12,000 people were allowed to resettle in the United States.

“As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Refugee Convention, the Women’s Refugee Commission’s commitment to improve the lives and protect the rights of women, children, and youth displaced by conflict and crises remains steadfast,” said Sarah Costa, executive director of the Women’s Refugee Commission. “COVID shone a light on how crisis impacts these populations differently and disproportionately in some areas, such as gender-based violence and loss of livelihoods. Especially at a time when some governments are increasingly turning their backs on refugees and outsourcing their obligations under the Convention to provide asylum and protection, we urge states to uphold the Convention’s core principles of non-discrimination, non-penalization, and non-refoulement.”

Costa continued, “For women, girls, and gender non-conforming people, displacement exacerbates existing inequalities and discrimination, requiring the humanitarian community to step up its own protection efforts to ensure that no one is left behind. To meet the spirit of the Refugee Convention, humanitarian service providers should ensure that they are identifying the specific needs of refugees and providing comprehensive services, including support that is responsive to age, gender, disability, and other diversity factors.

“Too often, we still see insufficient funding for gender-sensitive programming and policies that treat support for services such as sexual and reproductive health as optional rather than the lifesaving care it is. Unfortunately, refugee women and girls regularly bear the brunt of humanitarian responses that fail to consider their specific needs.

“Most importantly, every one of us in the humanitarian community should be listening to the communities we serve. No one knows what a refugee woman needs more than she does, so finding solutions and a path forward must engage her – this is a matter of basic dignity and rights. To live up to the Refugee Convention’s vision, the voices of those marginalized during crises or subjugated by persecution must be heard, and we must never forget that the Refugee Convention, born out of the horrors of World War II, still presents a lifeline to the millions of refugees hoping for a better future.”