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UN Refugee Convention turns 60

Refugee Convention 60th birthday cake

On World Refugee Day, Monday 20 June, the Law Centre hosted a birthday celebration for the Convention as part of Refugee Week NI.

Sixty years ago, 26 countries got together to sign the new UN Refugee Convention. This instrument has since become the ‘Magna Carta’ - the cornerstone - of international legal protection for refugees.  It was signed in the aftermath of World War II.  Governments worldwide were shaken by the atrocities that were perpetrated during the Holocaust and the war. It increasingly became clear that a protection framework was needed to ensure that such atrocities could never happen again. The Refugee Convention is precisely this. It builds on Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines a right to seek asylum, and provides a comprehensive framework of protections for refugees. It can be understood as a legal ‘escape route’ for those at risk of persecution and places legal obligations on states.

Sixty years on and the Refugee Convention is attributed with saving the lives of millions of people around the globe.  147 countries have now signed up to it and it has been described as the ‘wall behind which refugees can shelter’.

On World Refugee Day, Monday 20 June 2011, the Law Centre hosted a birthday celebration to mark the Refugee Convention turning 60. Speakers included Ursula O’Hare, Law Centre (NI) Assistant Director Policy and Publications, Justin Kouame, NICRAS Chair, and Virginia McVea, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Director.

The speakers agreed that the Refugee Convention is not a perfect document: its protections are incomplete and there is a huge gap between the rights it enshrines and day-to-day realities for asylum seekers and refugees living in the UK. However, everyone agreed that the Refugee Convention’s 60th birthday is a milestone well worth celebrating. Participants tucked into a birthday cake while children made wonderful crafts led by members of NICRAS/Corrymeela Inclusive Neighbourhood Project.

This celebration was part of a raft of events to mark Refugee Week in Northern Ireland with this year’s theme on Integration. NICRAS put together a comprehensive programme ranging from a book club, a football tournament, participation at the Lord Mayor’s Parade and much more besides. Certainly there is much to celebrate.

speakers at refugee convention event 2011

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