On 10 December 2018, which marks seventy years since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the same day in 1948, Amnesty International issued its annual review of the state of the world’s human rights. One area on which it focused was refugee rights in 2018 and set out below are some of its findings.
- The UN Global Compact on Refugees (the “Compact”): The final text of the Compact, which was intended to reform the international community’s response to mass forced displacement, was “notably unambitious” when it came out in July. Obligations under human rights and refugee law were mostly absent, as were the rights to non-refoulement and to seek asylum.
- States make severe cuts to resettlement quotas: UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, reported a 54% drop in resettlements in 2018: 75,188 in comparison with 163,206 in 2017 as a result of reduced resettlement quotas. By way of example, the US reduced its admissions quota to 45,000 (the lowest it has been since 1980) and intends to decrease it further to 30,000 in 2019.
- Forcible returns: In Europe, several states forcibly returned Afghans who had not obtained refugee status or other forms of international protection in spite of an increasingly precarious security situation and reports of civilian casualties in the country. During 2018, Finland forcibly deported 75 individuals; Germany returned 366; the Netherlands 28; and Norway 15.
- Lack of shared responsibility and co-operation: There was also a failure among European states to “reform asylum rules, or agree on a common system of shared responsibility and co-operation” for assisting refugees within Europe. This resulted in a number of serious consequences in the course of 2018:
- Frontline states faced an overwhelming number of asylum applications while others were intent on pursuing a policy of deterring those forcibly displaced from travelling to their borders, abdicating responsibility in favour of governments in Africa and elsewhere.
- Thousands of refugees and migrants were confined in overcrowded and unsanitary camps on the islands in Greece as a result of the EU/Turkey Deal, with women suffering “harassment, sexual violence and other abuses“.
- In the course of the summer months, 1,200 individuals were reported dead or missing at sea in the central Mediterranean and thousands were intercepted and taken back to Libya, where they would face “arbitrary detention, violence, abuse and exploitation”.
Amnesty noted with approval the rise of citizen activism in seeking solutions to aid refugees and asylum seekers: “In an increasingly hostile world, solidarity and direct action by communities and individuals may be the way to strengthen everyone’s right to seek asylum and live in dignity.” Governments, it said, should welcome instead of attacking or constraining such activities.