Opening Statement by the Chair of the Center for Human Rights, Dr. Wondemagegn Tadesse, World Refugees Day

            Dear Guests:

Representatives from Governments, NGOs, Intergovernmental Organizations, International NGOs, Academics and Others engaged in the promotion of rights and welfare of refugees, 

We are gathered here to commemorate the World Refugee Day, a day identified to contemplate responsibilities of all towards refugees; responsibilities of all of us: international, regional, national, and local actors; governmental and non-governmental organizations; civil societies; religious institutions, and many more;

As we convene here, the statistics is out regarding refugees and displaced people. The number of displaced has increased as it has been the trend for several years; children constitute the majority; political persecution, economic deprivation, violence, and so on continue to be the principal causes for displacement. The statistics also indicates millions of people are waiting, anxiously probably, for their status determination in ‘foreign’ lands, where in many cases refugees are considered aliens, competing for space and resources.

It is not only that the numbers have increased, but their situations are increasingly getting worse, mostly because of the misconception people have or are made to have towards refugees. They are now security threats in some corners; they are also targets of political rhetoric to win votes, and so on. The voices calling for compassion, for international morality/solidarity, respect for the rights of refugees, etc are becoming in the minority. People sinking in hundreds in the seas, vulnerable people being subjected to arbitrary violence including killing in their own home states, etc do not appear to invoke anymore much sympathy from host states and governments. We hear about the reluctance of states in granting asylum despite their international or national responsibilities to do so; some omitting legitimate and legal grounds for granting asylum. We are also seeing the forceful, and to some extent violent, separation of children from their families.

Today is an international event about refugees. We suspect originators of the idea of asylum and refuge (for example with the drafting of the 1951 Convention) might not have thought we would have such an event eventually. They probably thought the war/conflict would go away shortly and with them the situation of refuge; the refugees would go home or resettle in countries of their choice. The situation of refuge might exist anywhere and in any given time but in sort of transitional way, at least transitional for a person or a group. What was probably conceived a transitional protection and scheme now is no more so; it appears it has become permanent for many, transiting generations: the Palestinians, the Afghans, etc. Protracted refugee situation constitutes more than 2-3rd of refugees, with no durable solution in sight.

Have we made peace already with the protracted refugee situation? One might be tempted to answer yes: the world community appears to be unable to address the root causes of displacement; instead mostly focusing on the enhancement of the daily lives of refugees wherever they happen to take refuge. Of course these activities are important and rights of refugees shall be protected. But we should do more than that. At the same time as promoting rights of refugees, strategic plans and measures and innovative ways should be devised. Even if we may never eliminate the situation of refuge, we should not allow it to be a permanent status to any group; while promoting rights of refugees in their host and transit states, we need to find permanent solutions to the causes of the flight, political or economic or social; we should be able to challenge source states and governments and other non-governmental actors (such as rebels);  we should be able to address the root causes: poverty, opportunities, political persecution, violence and so on.

Coming home we are hosting large number of refugees (as overwhelming majority of refugees are hosted in developing countries like ours). While there is no questioning the humanity, hospitality and so on of our communities, where refugees are hosted, exploitation and abuses of refugees are being witnessed.  We should all of us work together to prevent and remedy such abuses and exploitations. We should not forget we have also been sources of refugees for long. We should change course and avoid unnecessary flights of citizens for exploitation and abuse.

Let us hope the idea of refugee one day will be a theory and a history. But in the meantime we shall work hard to address the challenges. As far as we at the Center are concerned, we will be engaging in research and education regarding refugees and migrants. This event is just a part of our commitment to investigate challenges and opportunities associated with flights (refuge and migration) and find solutions, including by preparation of policy briefs and advocacy materials.

Thank you;