Faced with a so-called refugee crisis, European politicians, practitioners and scholars discuss whether the 1951 Refugee Convention is in need of reform. Many of the arguments and questions have been raised previously, for example during the Balkan war, but today, the context differs. We are seeing the highest number of refugees ever, with 65, 3 million people fleeing their homes. Throughout the world, refugees often flee conflict and persecution, with the war in Syria as the largest source – but people are also forced to migrate due to climate change, natural disasters and poverty. These latter causes of flight are not normally considered by the 1951 Refugee Conventions as legitimate grounds for refugee status. Additionally, key refugee hosting countries such as Lebanon and Jordan have not ratified the Refugee Convention, while Turkey has done so but with significant reservations. Moreover, the United Nation’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is in chronic deficit as the willingness to provide the necessary funds is decreasing. In this context, not only do we hear calls for reform of the Refugee Convention and asylum regulations as a whole, but fundamental principles, such as the principle of non-refoulement (not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution), are under pressure.
Is it imperative to change the Refugee Convention now? And what should that change entail? What is most important; refugee protection and the fulfilment of fundamental human rights, or the sovereign state’s capacity to control the movement of people across its borders? Is it possible to balance the two? And what does effective refugee protection really mean? States are represented through political leaders, but how do we include refugee voices?
The evening starts off with a talk made by Gisela Thäter (Senior Regional Legal Officer for UNHCR in Northern Europe) before Maja Janmyr (Postdoctoral Researcher at the Faculty of Law, University of Bergen) and Vikram Kolmannskog (lawyer and social scientist with a doctoral degree (Dr.Philos) in Sociology of Law, University of Oslo) join her for a further discussion on these issues. We also encourage the audience to raise question and share their thoughts on the topic, and hope the event will open up to a more nuanced take on the important, but often polarized debate on how to improve the system of refugee regulation.
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Maja Janmyr is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Faculty of Law, University of Bergen. Her research interests include issues of international law – in particular socio-legal and critical approaches to international refugee- and human rights law. She is currently (2015-2019) researching refugee rights in the context of Syrian displacement in the Middle East. Her previous research includes rights mobilization among Nubians in Egypt, and readmission agreements and return policies in the European context. Her PhD thesis focused on the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) human rights obligations in refugee camps and avenues for accountability under the international laws of responsibility.
Vikram Kolmannskog is interested in human complexity and growth and how we can limit unnecessary suffering. His work is focused on law and society, therapy, and creative writing. He is a lawyer (LL.M. from Oslo and LSE) and a social scientist with a Dr.Philos. in Sociology of Law (Oslo). A main area of work has been to strengthen the rights of people displaced in the context of climate change. Another more recent focus has been LGBT/queer movements and rights, particularly in India. He is also a therapist with a private practice and 50 % Associate Professorship at the Norwegian Gestalt Institute. In addition to scholarly work, he writes some fiction. www.VikramKolmannskog.no