The number of displaced persons has been steadily increasing over the last fifteen years. In large part this is because of civil wars in African and Middle Eastern countries, as well as military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The essay will argue that the needs of refugees do make border protection a futile undertaking, as asylum seeker’s desperation to reach a safe haven ensures that they will ultimately find a way. It will discuss the conditions refugees encounter in countries of first asylum. Additionally, it will examine the evidence of obstacles to ‘legal’ entry pathways. Furthermore, it will address the largest criticism of refugees that enter host countries in an irregular manner, which is the threat to state sovereignty. Finally, it will enter into a well-supported argument that there is no evidence to support this claim, and it therefore does not constitute sufficient reason to shirk a nation’s responsibilities under international law, the Refugee Convention, or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 2011 Global Trends report shows that forced displacement is increasing. This is mostly attributed to civil wars in African and Middle Eastern countries, and the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Asia Pacific region, countries of origin of displaced persons include Sri-Lanka and Burma (Myanmar), which have respectively seen civil war and political unrest in recent years. Article 1 of the Refugee Convention defines a refugee as a person fleeing persecution of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a social group. Reasons for becoming refugees are not confined to persecution alone. They also include war, environmental disasters and famine, but in its current state the Refugee Convention does not provide legal protection to displaced persons that fall into these categories. The needs of refugees are essentially protection and safety, but their rights under international law extend to the provision of health care, education, housing, and freedom of movement within their host country (UNHCR, 2011). It is important to make the distinction between refugees and asylum seekers. An asylum seeker is someone who arrives in a country and then requests protection (McKay, Thomas & Kneebone 2011, p114). Their claim for refugee status can take months or even years to be processed. While waiting, they do not enjoy the same rights as those granted refugee status prior to their arrival, and in some countries they are confined in detention centres (Webber 2012, p42). Statistics show that up to 97% of asylum seekers arriving by boat have been found to be genuine refugees (Phillips 2011, p8). Border protection is defined by the World Trade Organisation as ‘any measure which acts to restrain imports at the point of entry’ (WTO 2012). A border is defined in A Dictionary of Geography as ‘a boundary line established by a state, or a region, to define its spatial extent’ (Mayhew 2009). The terms ‘border protection’, ‘border security’ and ‘border control’ appear interchangeable in reference to state control over the movement of goods and people over its borders (Koslowski 2011). A futile undertaking can most simply be defined as a wasted effort. The needs of refugees do make border protection a futile undertaking, as the desperation, survival instinct and fight-or-flight response of refugees combine to ensure they find a way to reach safety regardless of restrictions. The most common criticism of refugees that arrive in an irregular manner is that they pose a threat to the host nation’s sovereignty. Given that host countries are almost always signatories to the Refugee Convention, the struggle for their governments is maintaining a balance between state sovereignty and upholding their obligations under the convention and international law. Factors pushing refugees to desperate measures such as boarding...
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