Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Geneva Convention

The Geneva Convention

The 1951 Geneva Convention is one of the most important documents for refugees. It is often quoted but what does it really mean for integration into a host society?

As quoted in Simon Mol’s ‘Journeys in a New Homeland’ the term refugee is defined as anyone who ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.’ (Ch.I, Art. 1, A2)

Although the term ‘integration’ is not actually mentioned, there are several references to other related terms.

Under the chapter on Employment (Ch. III), it is stated that ‘The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the most favourable treatment accorded to nationals of a foreign country in the same circumstances, as regards the right to engage in wage-earning employment.’ This means that refugees cannot be treated worse than other foreigners in the country, but that no special provisions are required.

It goes on however to state that restrictions imposed on foreigners in the country to protect the national labour market are not to be applied to refugees who have a) been in the country for more than three years b) has a spouse of the nationality of the country of residence or c) has at least one child with the nationality of the country of residence.

The Welfare chapter (Ch. IV) covers considerations such as housing, education and social security.

In terms of housing, refugees are again not necessarily better off than other foreigners living in the country, but states are required to ‘accord to refugees the same treatment as is accorded to nationals with respect to elementary education.’ This means refugees (or rather, their young children) are entitled to state-funded primary education. States must also give refugees ‘treatment as favourable as possible’ in terms of other education and ‘in particular, as regards access to studies, the recognition of foreign school certificates, diplomas and degrees, the remission of fees and charges and the award of scholarships.’

Refugees are entitled to the same rights as nationals in the following areas:

  • public relief and assistance
  • laws and regulations about remuneration, including family allowances where these form part of remuneration, hours of work, overtime arrangements, holidays with pay, restrictions on home work, minimum age of employment, apprenticeship and training, women's work and the work of young persons, and the enjoyment of the benefits of collective bargaining
  • Social security (legal provisions in respect of employment injury, occupational diseases, maternity, sickness, disability, old age, death, unemployment, family responsibilities and any other contingency which, according to national laws or regulations, is covered by a social security scheme)

The convention states, in Ch. V, Art. 34, that ‘The Contracting States shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees.’

Assimilation can be defined as the absorption and integration of people, ideas or cultures. Naturalization is the admission of a foreigner to the citizenship of that country. So, countries which have signed this convention, in which refugees are living must ‘facilitate’ the integration of refugees. The ways in which this is to be done are left up to the individual states to define.

With the minimum conditions refugees are entitled to in terms of employment and welfare it seems integration is something that must also be a joint effort between the refugees themselves and the states in which they are living. The association aims to bridge this gap and further facilitate integratio