The definition of the word refugee has grown dramatically since its inception in 1951 by the United Nations Convention. The growth could be attributed to the ever-changing status and challenges of the refugee phenomena. Not only contemporary challenges call for a change in the definition to cater for the new look problems but also regional disparities and challenges which tend to differ call for a difference in refugee definition to curb these differences. As a result, this paper will focus on the reasons that have led to the changes through focusing on the 1951 Convention, the 1967 Protocol, the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention and the Cartegena Convention of 1984.
On 1951, July 28, the UN Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons adopted a definition for refugee status. In this definition, the refugee was defined to be a person under threat or fear as pertains to his race, nationality, religion due to his affiliation to a certain social group or opinion and must be outside the country of his nationality and is unable or unwilling to seek protection from his own country and is unwilling to return to the country of habituation due to fear of the threats.
This definition was marred by several complications. It failed to cover contemporary issues that were present in the contemporary world. Among the criticism was its failure to in the definition. Within the definition, some refugees failed to receive fair treatment as a result of failing to fit within the description. The definition dictated that a refugee had to be outside his country and that he had to be a victim of events occurring before January 1. In addition, the supervision and implementation of the convention rules lacked uniformity, with different countries applying them differently.
The 1951 Convention was meant to protect mainly Europeans as a result of the Second World War but did not include other refugees from other parts of the world. In fact, the Convention allowed countries to stipulate these rules to European members only. These drawbacks were therefore ironed out by the 1967 Protocol, which changed the laws from their specific regionally limited application to all members of the world irrespective of the regions of origin. The 1967 Protocol also removed the ceiling of 1951, January 1, to unlimited time duration.
As mentioned above, the differences also occurred due to regional disparities of refugee needs and forms. This posed a problem in the overall wellbeing of all the refugees in spite of their countries of origin. Consequently, some regions, i.e., Africa and the Americas, came up with other definitions and rules that would define their specific refugee needs. The African continent came up with the 1969 OAU Convention that highlighted issues like the observation of Human Rights, the inclusion of children protection within the refugee laws. In the African context, all refugees’ economic, political, social and civil rights had to be respected and that all African countries would receive refugees irrespective of their status; whether they are signatories or not. Another important inclusion was the Internally Displaced people within the definition of refugees. This could be attributed to the rampant internal disputes and civil wars that forced people to move from their original areas of settlement in search of safety but within the same country of nationality.
The Americas also had their standards of refugee management. In the Cartegena Declaration of 1984, the Inter-America definition also included the Human rights issue through the Incorporation of the American Convention of Human Rights, which is Article 22(7). All people would be granted permission to seek and be granted asylum. In this Declaration, collective expelling of refugees and other asylum seekers is defined as illegal. In addition to the definitions by the 1951 Declaration and the 1967 Protocol, the Cartegena definition includes refugees as people who flee their countries as a result of threats from generalized violence, massive human rights violations, foreign aggression and internal conflicts.