Resettlement: a durable solution for refugees who are victims of landmines/ERW and a response to their particular protection needs

Public art installation called «… the journey…» set-up near the Greek-Turkish border. Photo ©Greek Campaign to Ban Landmines

Public art installation called «… the journey…» set-up near the Greek-Turkish border. Photo ©Greek Campaign to Ban Landmines

Part 2

By Dr. Vida Amirmokri, Monitor Victim Assistance Team.

In the second part of this post, I discuss how obligations of international cooperation in victim assistance can be fulfilled with regard to landmine/ERW victims who are refugees.

Click here to read Part 1

International cooperation and resettlement of victim refugees

Armed conflicts, natural disasters and political turmoil push many people to leave their homes and become refugees. Landmine/ERW victims also have to flee home in such circumstances. Some asylum-seekers fall victim to landmine/ERW incidents on their road to exile. Once they reach a country of refuge, such persons and their family members are simultaneously refugees and mine/ERW victims.

International law requires the states under whose jurisdiction or control these persons are found to protect them as refugees and also assist them as mine/ERW victims. This responsibility is born by the country of first refuge. In case of repatriation at a later stage, the country of origin will be once again in charge of assistance to victim returnees.

Burmese landmine survivor  and refugee waits in prosthetic center run by Handicap International on Thai-Burma border. Photo ©Nonviolence International

Burmese landmine survivor and refugee waits in prosthetic center run by Handicap International on Thai-Burma border. Photo ©Nonviolence International

However, in practice countries of origin and countries of first refuge—mostly developing states—have great difficulties in fulfilling these obligations. In many cases they already have big responsibility to assist non-refugee mine/ERW victims under their jurisdiction (see examples of such countries as Afghanistan, Colombia and Iraq, as reported in the 2013 Monitor Briefing Paper on Landmines and Refugees. In such circumstances, refugee victims and other displaced persons with disabilities often face serious shortcomings in meeting their basic needs.

The 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees does not contain any provision on ‘burden-sharing’ and international cooperation. It only refers fleetingly in its preamble to the necessity of international co-operation for tackling refugee issues.[1] However, the UNHCR has attempted to develop various burden-sharing mechanisms and solutions one of which is resettlement. Resettlement is not a right for refugees and states have no legal obligation to accept resettlement submissions. Still, a limited number of developed countries have become ‘ traditional resettlement countries’ in view of their longstanding resettlement programs.[2] As a result of UNHCR efforts, the number of countries of resettlement has reached 26 in 2012.[3]

Unlike the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) provide for international cooperation and assistance.

Particularly, the MBT (Art. 6.3) requires the States Parties in a position to do so to provide assistance for the care and rehabilitation, and social and economic reintegration, of mine victims ; and the CCM (Art. 6.7) similarly requires each state party in a position to do so to cooperate in the adequate provision of age- and gender-sensitive assistance, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, and to provide for social and economic inclusion of cluster munition victims. Both provisions state that such assistance may be provided, inter alia, through the UN system and other international, regional or national organizations, NGOs or on a bilateral basis.

This obligation of international cooperation also applies to landmine/ERW victims who are refugees. The states in a position to do so, may support the provision of services to such victims in the first country of refuge or in the country of origin (in view of repatriation of refugees). When such services can effectively respond to the protection needs of victim refugees and reasonable prospects for local integration or voluntary repatriation exist, assistance in the first country of refuge or country of origin may turn out to be effective.

But, where prospects of integration or repatriation are absent and the protection needs of victim refugees cannot be satisfied in the first country of refuge, it seems that the most effective way to honor the obligation of international cooperation in victim assistance would be for the countries in a position to do so to accept the resettlement of the victims in their own territories and to provide them directly with the services to which they are entitled.

Radwan Kharbouche, from Morocco, who lost his leg on the Evros minefields. Photo © ICBL

Radwan Kharbouche, from Morocco, who lost his leg on the Evros minefields. Photo © ICBL

Among the 26 resettlement countries identified by the UNHCR in 2012, all except for the USA are States Parties to the MBT and 18 are also States Parties to CCM. There are also more states that are bound by these two treaties and the 1951 refugee convention that are in a position to resettle refugee victims and provide them with the necessary services.

UNHCR and the international NGOs working on refugee and victim assistance issues could draw on the international cooperation obligations and commitments of such states under the MBT[4] and the CCM and request that they put in place resettlement programmes for landmine/ERW victim refugees. Such an approach would send a clear signal of solidarity to the host states that are primarily in charge of protection of refugees and victim assistance.

Putting forward resettlement as a mechanism of fulfillment of international cooperation obligations under MBT and CCM becomes all the more relevant in view of the fact that in practice, refugees with disabilities have less access to durable solutions, including resettlement.


[1]The allusion to international cooperation is in the following   paragraph of the preamble: “considering that the grant of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries, and that a satisfactory solution of a problem of which the United Nations has recognized the international scope and nature cannot therefore be achieved without international co-operation.”

[2]These are Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) and the United States of America. See UNHCR, Frequently Asked Questions about Resettlement , p. 2.

[3] Namely Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria (implementation in 2012 onwards), Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary (implementation in 2012 onwards), Iceland, Ireland, Japan (pilot programme), the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, the United States of America.

[4] Through the 2010-204 Cartagena Action Plan, States Parties recognized “that fulfilling their obligations will require sustained substantial political, financial and material commitments,  provided both through national commitments and international, regional and bilateral  cooperation and assistance, in accordance with the obligations under Article 6.”

 

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