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IQ2 Debate: The Refugee Convention Is Out of Date

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Sydney Town Hall

483 George Street

Sydney, NSW 2000

Australia

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With the number of people now displaced from their homes the highest it’s ever been at 60 million, there’s never been a better time to ask how relevant the UN Refugee Convention is. It’s the global agreement that comes up every time we talk about migrants and immigration.

Established in 1951, the convention was designed to protect people from persecution in the aftermath of World War II, the Holocaust and Soviet occupation across Eastern Europe. Millions of people fled or were expelled from their homes by hostile forces. As borders were redrawn and countries seized, many lost the place where they belonged.

First created to help Europeans most affected by those events, the convention was updated 16 years later so it could apply to anyone needing a safe place, extending its promise of protection to people all over the world.

Criticism of the Refugee Convention is now commonplace. The convention is quite specific on who it will help and some say it’s too narrow, unfairly excluding those fleeing war, general violence, poverty, lack of opportunity and natural disasters. Others say it’s too broad, designed for an entirely different time when global populations were much smaller and the world’s problems were different.

Is it time to overhaul the rules?

The Ethics Centre has set an ambitious goal to present a program on refugee policy that adds to debate and goes beyond the polarised positions that have created political stalemate. We believe narrowing in on the refugee convention is the best way to do this. Our speakers will address the middle ground with intelligence, reason and a healthy passion that won’t descend into name-calling or over-simplicity.


SPEAKERS


FOR

Anna Boucher

Migration expert

Dr Anna Boucher is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney specialising in migration, population politics and human rights. She has degrees in law and political science and created the Migration Studies Unit at the London School of Economics. Anna thinks the Convention needs to be updated to cater to the pressures driving migration in today’s world.

Lord Fusitu’a
Tongan politician

Lord Fusitu’a is an elected member and nobleman of the Tongan parliament. He is officially titled, His Majesty's Lord of the Realm of the Kingdom of Tonga. Lord Fusitu’a’s constituency is the Niuas, three of the northern most group of islands. The barrister and solicitor wants the Convention updated so it can act as safety net for people displaced by climate change.

Greg Sheridan
Foreign affairs editor

Greg Sheridan is foreign editor of The Australian. He has published several books on the Asia Pacific region and accumulated decades of expertise in international politics as a foreign correspondent. Greg argues the Convention is no longer suitable for today’s world. He says Australia does better catering for people in need when it delivers humanitarian programs on its own terms.

AGAINST

Paris Aristotle
Trauma expert

Paris Aristotle AO is the director of the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture and 2017 Victorian Australian of the Year. He says the Refugee Convention should not be broadened because that would make it too big to function. Paris would prefer to see more Asia Pacific countries become signatories so there is a regional approach to asylum seekers.

Erika Feller
Former UNHCR commissioner

Erika Feller is the former Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). She is currently the Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Melbourne. Erika believes the Convention should stay as it is. She says there are other international agreements providing protection from natural disaster, war and poverty.

Jane McAdam
Professor of refugee law

Professor Jane McAdam is director of UNSW’s Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law. She is an associate or fellow at several international institutes dedicated to foreign policy. Jane says there is nothing wrong with the Convention except for the way it is applied. She thinks it would be a diplomatic error for Australia to abandon it.

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Sydney Town Hall

483 George Street

Sydney, NSW 2000

Australia

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