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Note on international protection (A/AC.96/1211/Rev.1)

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Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme Seventy-second session
Geneva, 4-8 October 2021
Item 4 (a) of the provisional agenda
Consideration of reports on the work of the Standing Committee International Protection

Note on international protection

Note by the High Commissioner


This note examines trends in international protection from July 2020-June 2021. It highlights the disproportionate effect of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and related measures on displaced and stateless persons, demonstrating how policies and practices which restrict access to rights undermine the international protection regime. This serves as a sobering reminder, 70 years after the adoption of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, of the need for strengthened international cooperation and solidarity. Yet, the note reveals efforts by States to ensure protection, even in times of crisis, and to promote inclusion in national systems. It also examines progress towards solutions.

I. Introduction

  1. International protection is based on the right to seek and enjoy asylum and the principle of non-refoulement. These fundamental principles have been honoured by most States since the adoption of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees in July 1951, 70 years ago, and its 1967 Protocol. Non-refoulement is now well recognized as customary international law, and the right to asylum is widely reflected in national and regional law and practice. Today, 149 States are party to either the 1951 Convention, its 1967 Protocol, or both. These instruments have withstood the test of time and continue to provide a solid foundation for international protection and durable solutions. In the current environment, where restrictive measures in some countries have denied access to international protection for those who need it, a renewed commitment to the principles enshrined in the 1951 Convention is crucial.

  2. At the end of 2020 the number of displaced persons worldwide reached a record 82.4 million, including 26.4 million refugees and 48 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), in addition to an estimated 4.2 million stateless persons. With conflict, persecution and human rights violations continuing unabated in many parts of the world, multilateral and multi-stakeholder action is more essential than ever to ensure protection for the displaced and to realize sustainable solutions. The Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) provides a vision and strategy for more equitable and predictable burden- and responsibility-sharing among States. It calls for contributions from an array of actors to support displaced populations and host communities, emphasizing the importance of including displaced and stateless persons in educational systems, the labour market and social services. This necessitates sustained commitment from the international community to support developing States hosting 85 per cent of the world’s displaced.

  3. The standards set forth in the 1951 Convention, the advancements made in implementing the GCR and the pledges made at the 2019 Global Refugee Forum (GRF) were profoundly tested by COVID-19, a health crisis that also threatened international protection and solidarity. The pandemic exposed the fragility of the asylum system and access to essential services, including health care in many countries.

  4. The note on international protection highlights concerns over restrictive policies and practices, including serious violations of non-refoulement. At the same time, it demonstrates the benefits of inclusive measures that promote the rights and well-being of the displaced and foster durable solutions.