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UNHCR Conference to Discuss Protection of Refugees


A top level meeting on the protection of refugees around the world opens Wednesday in Geneva. Government ministers are seeking to protect refugees at a time when migration is increasing and asylum seekers are often met with suspicion and outright hostility.

More than 120 countries are expected to meet in Geneva to renew their commitment to an international treaty on the rights of refugees. The 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention sets the guidelines for refugee treatment and protection.

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, there have been some moves by various countries to curb immigration and discriminate against refugee populations.

Conference hosts, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the Swiss Government said respect for refugees must be upheld, but those people found guilty of committing terrorist acts must be excluded from the international protection system.

Rupert Colville of the UNHCR explained the importance of the meeting. "The main aim of it is to adopt this declaration which is a strong affirmation of the states support for the 1951 Convention. It is a reaffirmation of their support for it. That is important. There has been a certain amount of confusion in the debate surrounding refugees and asylum seekers in the past couple of years. Some voices have even been raised questioning whether the convention is still valid, so if this declaration is adopted, hopefully we can end that particular line of debate," he said.

Mr. Colville said the government ministers will also discuss protection issues not covered by the convention. He said the conference will be looking to strengthen international efforts to combat human trafficking and smuggling, and ways to improve protection of refugee women and children."If during this whole process it is decided there is a need for new laws, or protocols or whatever, that would come out in the next year or two," he said.

So far, 143 countries have signed the convention protecting refugees; the latest being the Republic of Moldova and the Caribbean state of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

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