Strained by unprecedented levels of displacement, the international system created to protect refugees has buckled and is failing the world’s most vulnerable people, says Canada’s former minister of immigration, Lloyd Axworthy.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, as tens of millions Europeans fled their homes and the world’s worst refugee crisis was then high on the international agenda, Western powers established a set of rules to protect the inalienable rights of those displaced by war.
The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defined a refugee as a person fleeing conflict or persecution and obliged its signatories to offer asylum to those who qualify.
But seven decades later, with a refugee crisis of even greater magnitude unfolding, driven by scattered conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Central America, those very governments have turned their backs on the principles underpinning the system they created, Axworthy told CBC News in an interview.
With governments increasingly reluctant to afford refugees the protections to which they are entitled under international law, it is necessary to “take that fundamental, irrefutable right [to asylum] and say, ‘how do we translate that into a modern idiom.'”
Axworthy, who also served as Canada’s minister of foreign affairs from 1996 to 2000, is taking on that challenge as the chair of the newly announced World Refugee Council. The WRC comprises a diverse group of leaders in the field of forced migration, including Liberian peace activist and Nobel Peace prize winner Leymah Gbowee, former Greek prime minister George Papandreou and the former foreign minister of Thailand, Surin Pitsuwan.
The council is…