"International Migrations: a Global Issue" Catherine de Wenden, CNRS research director:
CERI - Sciences Po. -We will talk about refugees, environmentally-displaced people, who are a very hot topic since, in Europe particularly, migration issues have been developed within the scope of refugees over the last two years. Europe encountered an exceptional flood of refugees in 2014 and 2015. But it is a global issue. For a long time, from Antiquity until the second half of the 19th century, it has never really been a source of international disagreement. Refugees were mainly welcomed in churches through a kind of protection that they could benefit from by seeking refuge in these places of worship. Refugees were not even mentioned in international treaties. This issue became much more serious at the end of the First World War, or during the First World War. With Armenians on the one hand and, on the other hand, with the disappearance of great empires: Austria-Hungary, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, where many people, who fled this disappearance because they did not have a status anymore, tried to seek asylum in Europe and their existence did not have any institutional recognition anymore. To face this issue, the Nansen passport, named after a Swedish glaciologist who crossed borders, went up and down to the poles and was a symbol of the 20th century mobile man, was created. The Nansen passport was provided to the White Russians and to a certain amount of exiles from the great empires of this time, in this context. In order to keep on strengthening the status of these people, at the end of the Second World War the 1951 Geneva Convention was elaborated. It was thus established during a cold war period. So there was also a political message, that of the reception of the people fleeing their country. Furthermore, it also supplemented the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says that anyone has the right to leave a country, including their own. Thus, the answer was the Geneva Convention for refugees. Actually, this refugee definition is quite broad. It says that any person who is persecuted or who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, according to the words of the time, religion, nationality, political views or potential affiliation to a social group, can seek asylum. At that time, asylum seekers quite easily obtained the refugee status since, in the 1970s, there was almost up to 70-80% positive acknowledgements of the status. It was even a symbol of the Western answer to the world being split in two blocks. Vietnamese refugees, boat peoples as they were called, incidentally quite generously obtained the refugee status. As of the 1990s, the refugee, or asylum seeker, status acknowledgement became harder to obtain since it came with all the migration policies becoming more rigorous and also because of various profiles. It was not about facing a political context anymore. The Cold War, in a broad sense, ended in 1990, the Berlin Wall fell. A certain number of refugees arrived, invoking the fact that they were victims of communism. For example, there were many Chinese refugees, refugees from Eastern countries arriving in Western Europe in this context. At that time, Germany already welcomed most of these refugees. The acknowledgement rate kept on decreasing during this period. At the same time, in order to face this flood, other statuses than the Geneva Convention were multiplied. 1990 is also the year when the High Commissioner for Refugees extended, defined and practiced what we call internal refugees, in their own countries. They are called IDPs, internally displaced persons. People who do not seek refuge by crossing borders but by staying close to home, protected in another region than that of conflicts by non-governmental organizations, charities, waiting to be able to go back home. There were many returns in the case of the ex-Yugoslavia crisis. There were also many in Ivory Coast, for example. So, in this context, there was an internal settlement of the refugee crisis. Other statuses, less protective than the Geneva Convention, have been defined, in Germany for example. What we called the B Status of the United Nations which was not an application of the Geneva Convention. In other cases, France for example, there was a temporary protection for Algerians during the 1995 crisis. There were also other major crises in the world during the 1990s that led to either a refugee status, or to pending situations without a true institutional answer. But, at the same time, some people were protected by the non-refoulement clause. The Geneva Convention indeed states that people cannot be sent back to troubled countries, even if they are not given the refugee status. They are called the "neither, nor". Neither the situation of these persons can be regularized as refugees, nor can they be sent back home. There are many of them nowadays since the acknowledgement rate is quite low. For example, recently, when the Syrian crisis was at its pinnacle, the acknowledgement of the refugee status was around 45-50% in many European countries. In France, the acknowledgement of the status is around 31% only, no matter the category or the nationality. Thus, many people become these "neither, nor" persons in the current context and temporarily or permanently become illegal immigrants. Many crises also lasted a long time. So the profiles of some refugees changed. That is to say people are not individual refugees anymore but collective refugees, who are persecuted because of their religion, their affiliation to a social group, etc. It was the case in Sri Lanka, for example. We also have refugees who correspond to persecutions that were linked to ethnicity. It was the case during the African Great Lakes crisis. In many cases, it is more difficult for collective refugees, people that are persecuted by the civil society and not by their country of origin, to prove that they have been persecuted. In these cases, it is more difficult to obtain the refugee status.