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70 Years on, the Refugee Convention Still Struggles to Gain Traction in the Asia-Pacific

70 Years on, the Refugee Convention Still Struggles to Gain Traction in the Asia-Pacific

The Asia-Pacific region counts the smallest percentage of state parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol – only 20 out of 48.

On the 70th anniversary of the Refugee Convention, fresh alarm over rising forced displacement has rocked the Asia-Pacific region. Following February’s coup d’état in Myanmar, 175,000 people have been internally displaced, and 12,000 people have fled the country. But as Geneva marks the refugee law’s 70th anniversary later this month, most of Myanmar’s neighbors – the first responders to the deepening humanitarian crisis – are not signatories to the Refugee Convention.

The region’s relationship with international refugee law is a troubled one. In 2020 the Asia-Pacific hosted 9.2 million forcibly displaced people, including 4.4 million refugees and 2.3 million stateless people. However, high rates of forced displacement are met by low ratification rates of refugee law instruments. A quick scan of the region also illustrates that hospitality toward refugees and ratification of the Convention do not always correlate.

This patchwork raises the question of what is next for the Refugee Convention, 70 years on. Ratification of legal instruments is important for standard setting and strengthening protection spaces. However, this is not sufficient. The diversity of experiences in the Asia-Pacific region shows that the key challenge on the Convention’s anniversary is the need for effective and sustainable support to displaced people and local communities at the frontlines of humanitarian crises.

The Asia-Pacific region counts the smallest percentage of state parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol – only 20 out of 48. Some of its largest refugee-hosting countries are not signatories: Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Thailand, and Indonesia.
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