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The phrase ‘protracted refugee situations’ carries an important qualitative connotation: it is about the duration of life in exile but also, significantly, about the quality of such life – which is seen to deteriorate over time as solutions remain elusive. The practice of keeping refugees in protracted situations of restricted mobility, enforced idleness, and dependency on aid amounts to a denial of basic rights. Such rights – underpinning fundamental values of security, dignity and freedom – may pertain to refugees as refugees (i.e. on account of their specific vulnerabilities). For the most part, however, they are simply inherent in the dignity of all human beings.

It is generally acknowledged that, in emergency situations, states may find it difficult, even with the support of others, to ensure to refugees the full exercise of all their human rights. With the passing of time, however, states have fewer and fewer excuses for denying such basic rights as, for example, freedom of movement, access to courts or personal documentation. As for socio-economic rights, such as the right to work and earn a living, both the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the International Bill of Rights establish a principle of progressive realisation, meaning that the effective enjoyment of refugees’ human rights is supposed to improve over time, whereas one observes exactly the opposite in many Protracted Refugee Situations. As noted by one commentator, “in fostering self-reliance, guaranteeing people’s rights is more important than providing them with material aid”. Rights matter.

 Credit: Jean-Francois Durieux


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