16 June 2014
|UN Photo/UNHCR/R LeMoyne|
Figures for 2013 are due to be released by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) later this month, but are expected to show a further increase from the 45.2 million people that were in situations of displacement at the beginning of 2013.
Statistics released by the UNHCR earlier this year also revealed a sharp rise in asylum claims in 44 industrialised countries over the course of the previous 12 months with a total of 612,700 people claiming asylum in the North American, European and East Asia/Pacific regions. (Australia received 24,300 claims in this period)
In the lead up to World Refugee Day on 20th June the UNHCR is highlighting individual stories of refugees. Stories that put a human face on the statistics may help to counter the consistent pervasive demonising of asylum seekers by labeling them ‘illegals’, ‘queue jumpers’ or ‘terrorists’ and thus justify the cruel and inhumane treatment to which those fleeing persecution are subjected in some countries.
One practical action that can be taken to voice a protest against the current policies of the Australian government is to sign the petition calling for the closure of the offshore detention centres at Manus Island and Nauru.
Refugee Week which incorporates World Refugee Day is Australia's peak annual activity to raise awareness about the issues affecting refugees and celebrate the positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society.
In yet another demonstration of the petty and vindictive nature of the current Australian government’s policy towards refugees and asylum seekers, as well its willingness to punish those who challenge that policy, the government has cut off funding to the Refugee Council of Australia which for more than thirty years has worked to promote the development of humane, lawful and constructive policies towards refugees and asylum seekers.
Birth registration, the official recording of a child's birth by the government, establishes the existence of the child under law and provides the foundation for safeguarding many of the child's civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that every child has the right to be registered at birth without any discrimination.
Nevertheless, the births of nearly 230 million children under the age of five worldwide have never been officially recorded. Asia is home to more than half of these children.
Apart from being the first legal acknowledgement of a child’s existence, birth registration is central to ensuring that children are counted and have access to basic services such as health, social security and education. Knowing the age of a child is central to protecting them from child labour, being arrested and treated as adults in the justice system, forcible conscription in armed forces, child marriage, trafficking and sexual exploitation. A birth certificate as proof of birth can support the traceability of unaccompanied and separated children and promote safe migration. In effect, birth registration is their ‘passport to protection.’
Despite the importance of obtaining official and documented proof of registration, around 290 million children (or 45 per cent of all children under age five worldwide), do not possess a birth certificate. Universal birth registration is one of the most powerful instruments to ensuring equity over a broad scope of services and interventions for children.
In Sierra Leone, the Christian Brothers have collaborated with Plan international and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in raising awareness around the importance of this issue.
Statelessness is a separate but related problem.
Some lucky babies are entitled to a clutch of passports: one born in America to a Lebanese father and Japanese mother, for example, can have three. Other unfortunates—one born in Norway to a Lebanese mother and unknown father, say—are entitled to none at all. Unless some country takes pity on them, they will join the world’s 10m or so stateless people in legal limbo, acknowledged as citizens nowhere. Many are unable to work legally, travel across borders or use public services. Almost none can vote or stand for election.
Some of the biggest groups of stateless people are in countries with poor statistics; those who can be counted number 3.5m.
Many lack a nationality because their homelands splintered and they fell in the cracks between successor states’ citizenship rules.
Governments sometimes make residents stateless, even when no borders have been redrawn. Myanmar grants citizenship to 135 ethnic groups—but not the Rohingya, who are Muslims with a distinctive language in a mainly Buddhist country. Around 800,000 stateless Rohingya live within its borders and almost as many elsewhere, having fled persecution.
A recent push by the UN to get more countries to sign two treaties granting basic rights to stateless residents, and seeking to resolve their legal status, has started to bear fruit. Last year Ivory Coast, where disputes about nationality have fuelled civil conflict, became the 20th country to ratify at least one of the treaties since 2011. It is now taking steps to resolve the citizenship of several hundred thousand stateless residents.
But even as some countries are cutting statelessness, in others it is on the rise. Last year a court in the Dominican Republic ruled that citizens of Haitian descent born since the country’s constitution was written in 1929 should have their citizenship status reviewed and “corrected”, making more than 200,000 people stateless and excluding them from schools, health care and formal jobs.
The national projects coordinator of Australian Catholic Religious Against trafficking in Humans (ACRATH) has described the Budget's cuts to foreign aid as a 'national disgrace'.
Christine Carolan said 'our aid budget funds among other things access to clean drinking water, education programmes for girls, and counter human trafficking initiatives in our South-east Asian region. These are essentials for some of the world’s poorest people, and yet they come and go at the whim of the Australian treasurer.'
'In our advocacy work in the past two years, we have called on the Australian government to commit to an aid budget of at least 0.7% of GNI by 2015-16. This was the vision of the global community when the UN developed the millennium development goals as our planet began the new millennium – we could eradicate extreme poverty by shouldering our responsibility to build a more just world.
'And how does Australia shape up now, one year away from the 2015-16 target? At present, the foreign aid budget is 0.33% and will, after this budget, be 0.29% in 2017-18. This is a national disgrace. And it needs to be trumpeted in the media.'
In 1970, the economically developed nations committed to allocating O.7% of GDP in the form of Aid to address global poverty. That commitment has been repeatedly re-affirmed as a means of meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Only Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and Luxembourg have consistently met that target. The revised aid contribution places Australia among the least generous of donor nations.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) has adopted a new legally binding Protocol designed to strengthen global efforts to eliminate forced labour. The Protocol, supported by a Recommendation, was overwhelmingly adopted by government, employer and worker delegates to the International Labour Conference.
The new Protocol brings the existing ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labour, adopted in 1930, into the modern era to address practices such as human trafficking. The accompanying Recommendation provides technical guidance on its implementation. The Protocol strengthens the international legal framework by creating new obligations to prevent forced labour, to protect victims and to provide access to remedy, such as compensation for material and physical harm.
It requires governments to take measures to better protect workers, in particular migrant labourers, from fraudulent and abusive recruitment practices and emphasises the role of employers and workers in the fight against forced labour.
“Forced labour violates the human rights and dignity of millions of women and men, girls and boys. It contributes to the perpetuation of poverty and stands in the way of the achievement of decent work for all,” said Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General
There are currently an estimated 21 million forced labour victims worldwide. A recent ILO report estimates that US$ 150 billion in illegal profits are made in the private economy each year through modern forms of slavery.
More than half of the victims of forced labour are women and girls, primarily in domestic work and commercial sexual exploitation, while men and boys were primarily in forced economic exploitation in agriculture, construction, and mining.