UNHCR welcomes draft German law on refugee definitions

UNHCR welcomes draft German law on refugee definitions

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today welcomed a draft law before the German parliament that would grant recognition to those seeking asylum from entities other than a State, or those fleeing gender-based persecution.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today welcomed a draft law before the German parliament that would grant recognition to those seeking asylum from entities other than a State, or those fleeing gender-based persecution.

“There is nothing in the 1951 [Refugee] Convention to suggest that you can only be recognized as a refugee if persecuted by a state, and UNHCR has always strongly opposed this method of excluding a considerable number of people very clearly in need of international protection,” agency spokesman Kris Janowski told reporters in Geneva.

The recognition that people can similarly be persecuted because of their gender – something also not explicitly spelled out in the 1951 Convention – is a recent development and a “welcome trend,” the spokesman added.

Germany and France are currently the only European Union (EU) countries not to recognize persecution by “non-State agents” – such as entities in failed States like the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan – or in nations where the recognized government is effectively unable or unwilling to protect some of its citizens from persecution by other forces, Mr. Janowski said.

Consequently, UNHCR has been concerned about some of the inconsistencies in the definition of refugees by some European countries, because it is one of the principal subjects currently under discussion in the EU asylum harmonization process, which requires unanimous agreement among member countries.

“UNHCR hopes that these two elements of the draft German legislation will thus pass intact through the German parliamentary process,” Mr. Janowski said. “If both provisions survive intact, it should ease the extremely important process of EU harmonization of the refugee definition, due to be completed by early 2004.”