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I.

Introduction
Syria, one of the cradles of civilization and situated in the
historically-rich Arab region was once a nation under normal
circumstances. However, in the past four years, millions of
people have died, lost their homes and fought every single
day with great determination to survive which was brought
about by Civil War and has escalated into an unthinkable
nightmare that no person would ever want to live in. In
addition to the already disconsolate situation is the
emergence of the Islamic State who took advantage of the
countrys frailty. A war within a war as many analysts and
news programs would call it, only signifies how difficult the
situation has become. It is already difficult to be in a state of
war, how much more when you are facing not just one but
two wars. In the case of Syria, it is not just facing civil war
but also the battle against Islamic State and Jihadists. These
factors only make the people within Syria more vulnerable.
While most people in the other parts of the world are
enjoying their meals and sleep sound at night, meanwhile,
the people in Syria are fighting for survival with no
assurance that they will get to live another day. The huge
influx of Syrians into the European Union has triggered
various reactions from citizens and governments of such
receiving nations. Some of whom have negative reactions
and have reservations in accepting them. These instances of
resistance and reservations in accepting these Syrian people
who are trying to escape the turmoil that they are suffering
from in their own country is where the Rights of Refugees
under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of
Refugees comes in. Are the Syrians flying to these European
and neighboring countries as refugees as acts of desperation
from the war or as migrants who are trying to look for job
and a better life? The line has to be drawn in order to
determine the appropriate action the other States has to do.
This paper will discuss the rights of refugees and what are
the things they are entitled to with the aid of a few historical
cases and analogy as to the facts laid down thereto.
II. Refugees vs MIgrants
There are various definitions attached to the word refugee
but the one that is of greater impact to this topic is that of
the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees which
says,
For the purposes of the present Convention, the term
"refugee" shall apply to any person who:

(1) Has been considered a refugee under the Arrangements of 12


May 1926 and 30 June 1928 or under the Conventions of 28
October 1933 and 10 February 1938, the Protocol of 14 September
1939 or the Constitution of the International Refugee Organization;
Decisions of non-eligibility taken by the International Refugee
Organization during the period of its activities shall not prevent the
status of refugee being accorded to persons who fulfil the
conditions of paragraph 2 of this section;
(2) As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing
to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race,
religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or
political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is
unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the
protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and
being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a
result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling
to return to it.
In the case of a person who has more than one nationality, the
term "the country of his nationality" shall mean each of the
countries of which he is a national, and a person shall not be
deemed to be lacking the protection of the country of his
nationality if, without any valid reason based on well-founded fear,
he has not availed himself of the protection of one of the countries
of which he is a national. 1

As can be gleaned from the above definition, a refugee is


one who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for
reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a
particular social group or political opinion, is outside the
country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such
fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that
country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside
the country of his former habitual residence as a result of
such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to
return to it.
On the other hand, according to the UN Convention on the
Rights of Migrants, a migrant is defined as:
"a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged
in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a
national."
Article 1.1 (a) should be understood as covering all cases where the
decision to migrate is taken freely by the individual concerned, for
reasons of 'personal convenience' and without intervention of an
external compelling factor."2

1 Article 1, Chapter I, 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees


2 Article 1, UN Convention on the Rights of Migrants
2

Between the two definitions, it is obvious that the Syrians fall


within the definition of refugees particularly the definition
in subparagraph 2. The definition made a clear emphasis on
the word fear which is not even enough to describe the
feeling of someone who is in a situation such as that of the
Syrians. The everyday battle with bombs, destroyed houses,
bullets being indiscriminately hit on another, and the mere
fact that the Islam Jihadists and extremists from various
groups and denominations, some of whom are from the AlQaeda and some from the Islamic State, are factors that will
put anyone in a state of mind beyond the definition of fear. It
is not that easy to leave someones homeland, employment
and the things that they and their ancestors have worked
hard for in a lifetime plus the dangers of the sea and the
risks that they are going to face on their voyage to Europe.
Bearing these in mind, it must not be easy for the Syrians
who have flown away from the land they grew up in, bringing
with them their children and family who are all in desperate
danger. After being able to ascertain that the Syrians are
refugees in the eyes of International Law particularly under
the context of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of
Refugees, what are then the corresponding rights on the part
of the refugees and the obligations that the surrounding
nations have undertaken by virtue of their affirmation to
such Convention?
III. The Rights, Status and Obligations under the 1951
Convention
The particular rights that are applicable to refugees are
embodied and clearly enumerated under Chapter I, II, III, IV
and V of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
which was adopted on 28 July 1951 and was entered into
force on 22 April 1954. Among these rights are: Chapter I,
Article 4, Right to Religion; Chapter II, Article 14, Artistic
Rights and Industrial Property; Article 15, Right to
Association; Article 16, Access to Courts; Chapter III, Gainful
Employment; Chapter IV, Welfare such as Rationing,
Housing, Public Education, Public Relief, and Social Security;
and in Chapter V, Freedom of Movement and such other
Administrative Assistance. To quote a few,
Article 4 - Religion
The Contracting States shall accord to refugees within their territories
treatment at least as favourable as that accorded to their nationals

with respect to freedom to practise their religion and freedom as


regards the religious education of their children. 3
Article 17 - Wage-earning employment
1. The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in
their territory the most favourable treatment accorded to nationals of a
foreign country in the same circumstances, as regards the right to
engage in wage-earning employment. 4

International humanitarian law provides that victims of


armed conflict, whether displaced or not, should be
respected, protected against the effects of war, and provided
with impartial assistance. Because many refugees find
themselves in the midst of international or internal armed
conflict, refugee law is often closely linked to humanitarian
law.5 From the above foregoing, the point is taken that
refugees, as vulnerable as they are, are entitled to such
rights under international law. They are not just some people
who are moving from one place to another because in truth
and in fact, their rights are very well protected under the
1951 Convention. Meanwhile, the countries that they are
flying into may not leave the matters according to their own
discretion because as a matter of fact, they too have
obligations under the 1951 Convention that they have
endeavored to undertake the moment they signed as stateparties thereto.
Article 13 - Movable and immovable property
The Contracting States shall accord to a refugee treatment as
favourable as possible and, in any event, not less favourable than
that accorded to aliens generally in the same circumstances, as
regards the acquisition of movable and immovable property and
other rights pertaining thereto, and to leases and other contracts
relating to movable and immovable property.6
Article 22 - Public education
1. The Contracting States shall accord to refugees the same
treatment as is accorded to nationals with respect to elementary
education.
2. The Contracting States shall accord to refugees treatment as
favourable as possible, and, in any event, not less favourable than

3 Article 4, Chapter I, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees


4 Article 17, Chapter III, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
5 Jastram and Achiron, UNCHR, Refugee Protection: A Guide to International
Refugee Law, p. 18.
6 Article 13, Chapter II, Convention Relating to Status of Refugees
4

that accorded to aliens generally in the same circumstances, with


respect to education other than elementary education and, in
particular, as regards access to studies, the recognition of foreign
school certificates, diplomas and degrees, the remission of fees
and charges and the award of scholarships.7
Article 23 - Public relief
The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in
their territory the same treatment with respect to public relief and
assistance as is accorded to their nationals.8

From the above-cited provisions, the Convention puts up an


obligation on the part of Contracting States, most of which
are termed as as favorable as possible and the same
treatment as is accorded to nationals. Some of the other
obligations not quoted are: Labour legislation and Social
Security; Administrative Assistance, Housing, Expulsion in
Article 32, which states that the Contracting States shall not
expel a refugee lawfully in their country save on the grounds
of national security or public order, and such others. It must
be noted however, that the refugees themselves too, have
their corresponding obligation to the Contracting State,
which says:
Article 2 - General obligations
Every refugee has duties to the country in which he finds himself,
which require in particular that he conform to its laws and regulations
as well as to measures taken for the maintenance of public order. 9

Therefore, the refugees in turn, have their own obligation


towards the Contracting State for purposes of public order.
This brings us then to the status of the refugees who are in
the presence of a state other than their own.
Article 12 - Personal status
1. The personal status of a refugee shall be governed by the law of
the country of his domicile or, if he has no domicile, by the law of
the country of his residence.
2. Rights previously acquired by a refugee and dependent on
personal status, more particularly rights attaching to marriage,
shall be respected by a Contracting State, subject to compliance, if
this be necessary, with the formalities required by the law of that
State, provided that the right in question is one which would have

7 Article 22, Chapter IV, Convention Relating to Status of Refugees


8 Article 23, Ibid.
9 Article 2, Chapter I, Convention Relating to Status of Refugees
5

been recognized by the law of that State had he not become a


refugee.10

As has been said, the refugees retain their previous status


such as marriage and such status is entitled to respect from
the Contracting State. The inclusion of such provision only
goes to show that refugees such as the Syrians did not lose
their human dignity and that theretofore, they shall be
treated in a manner that human beings shall be treated. The
distinction between protection and assistance, which is
maintained in the arrangement of the latest UNHCR Reports,
is probably still valid, although the Executive Committee has
recently 'recognized that international protection is best
achieved through an integrated and global approach to
protection, assistance, and durable solutions . . . 11
IV. Conclusion
With these express provisions and undertakings, it is clear
that the Syrians are entitled to the rights afforded to
refugees under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status
of Refugees. Not only that it is within the bounds of
International Law, it is also inculcated in the depths of the
principles of Humanitarian Law. These people are in dire
need of assistance and help from the other nations who are
lucky enough to not have been able to experience such
turmoil and unbearable situation that the Syrians are facing.
To refuse them of such is like taking away the human in us.
Not only is it grounded on the provisions of respective
international conventions but also within the tenets of the
general principles of International Law which adheres to
equality and peace among nations.

10 Article 12, Chapter II, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.


11 Conclusion No. 46 Central (1987)in Conclusions on the International
Protection of Refugees adopted by the Exetutae Ommitta of the UNHCR
Programme (U N doc. HCR/lP/2/Rev . 1987), p. 103.
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