Treaty Violators Make Mockery of Refugee Convention

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 23 2019 – With the rise of rightwing nationalism, primarily in the Western world, an increasingly large number of countries are not only abandoning multilateralism but also violating international treaties and conventions signed and ratified in a bygone era.

The most blatant is the violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which has been ratified by 145 State parties, and which also defines the term “refugee” while outlining the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of states to protect them.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the core principle of the Convention is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a rule of customary international law.

But several countries, including the US, Australia, France, Italy and Hungary, are flouting the Convention because they have either barred or severely restricted the inflow of refugees—and also penalized those who have assisted refugees (as in the US and Italy).

Categorized mostly as “political refugees”, they originate largely from conflict-ridden countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Myanmar and Venezuela, among others.

In an interview with IPS, Marco Funk, Policy Officer at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s (FES) European Union (EU) Office, told IPS the context of today’s refugee situation is quite different from what it was in the aftermath of World War II, when the 1951 Convention was signed.

The original Convention itself was actually limited in scope to Europeans – this geographical limitation was only lifted by an additional protocol in 1967, which some countries did not implement. Turkey is a notable example, he said.

“Many other countries around the world, especially wealthy ones, have made it increasingly difficult for refugees to seek international protection and thus either indirectly or in some cases directly violate the convention they have signed and ratified”, he pointed out.

Racism certainly is a factor, but so is the pervasive fear of negative effects on destination countries’ economies and their security, said Funk, who is responsible for the FES’s Brussels-based activities related to EU migration and home affairs.

He said the significant increase in legal migration to developed countries since the 1950s also plays a role.

Attempts to restrict migration can be seen not only in Europe, the US and Australia, he said, but also in East Asia and even some parts of the developing world.

“Wherever there is displacement, there is usually also a counter-strategy of containment by countries of destination”.

“The international community should respond by drawing attention to the rights outlined in the Refugee Convention and violations of them where they occur, but that is not enough”, said Funk, who previously worked as a Policy Analyst for the European Policy Centre, where he focused on EU migration and asylum policy.

He argued that more effort should be put into highlighting and addressing the root causes of displacement, and using other relevant international agreements to their fullest extent in order to mitigate the drivers of forced migration.

At the same time, legal channels of migration should also be expanded, he noted.

In two controversial cases recently, the Italian government placed under house arrest (but later freed) the captain of a ship carrying rescued migrants on the Mediterranean Sea.

Captain Carola Rackete defended her decision to challenge Italy’s closed-door policy on refugees and migrants.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters July1: “Sea rescue is a long standing humanitarian imperative. It’s also an obligation under international law”.

“No vessel or shipmaster should be at the risk of fine coming to the aid of boats in distress where loss of life be imminent. That’s a question… that’s an issue of principle,” he added.

In the US, Scott Warren, a volunteer for the non-profit humanitarian organization, ‘No More Deaths’, faced felony charges in a court in Arizona because he provided food and water for a pair of migrants who were found hungry and dehydrated in the desert — and fleeing from Central America.

In the initial hearing last June, the jury was dismissed because they could not agree on the charges.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR said on July 1 that more than 1.4 million refugees residing in over 60 refugee hosting countries will be in need of resettlement next year, according to data presented at an annual resettlement forum in Geneva.

The report, titled “Projected Global Resettlement Needs 2020”, said those most at risk and in need of resettlement include Syrian refugees (40 per cent); South Sudanese refugees (14 per cent of the total) and refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11 per cent of the total).

Asked for a UN perspective on the violations of the 1951 Convention, Dr Palitha Kohona, the former Chief of the UN Treaty Section, told IPS one has to remember the background to that convention.

In 1951, the refugees were war displaced Europeans, almost all Christian. Other Europeans poured out their milk of human kindness in abundance to these displaced.”

Today, he said, “the refugees in Europe are slightly tinted Muslims, and the fountain of charity has inexplicably dried up”.

“Where a country is a party to the Convention and a refugee meets its requirements, the country concerned is obliged to extend its umbrella of protection,” said Dr Kohona, a former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN.

“Failure to comply could result in the other state parties taking a dim view. However, such dim views do not hurt much and tend to be forgotten quickly,” he added.

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Saudi Arabia Looks to Build World’s First Long-Range Hyperloop Test Track In Partnership with Virgin Hyperloop One

LOS ANGELES, July 22, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Virgin Hyperloop One, the only hyperloop company in the world to successfully test its hyperloop technology at scale, today announced a development partnership with the Saudi Arabia's Economic City Authority (ECA) to conduct a study to build the world's longest test and certification hyperloop track, as well as a research and development center and hyperloop manufacturing facility north of Jeddah.

Today's announcement took place this week at Virgin Hyperloop One's Los Angeles headquarters during a visit from a senior delegation of Saudia Arabia's Economic City Authority, led by Secretary–General Mohanud A. Helal. The study will focus on King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), located 100 kilometers north of the Red Sea port of Jeddah. The project, which would include a 35–kilometer test and certification track, will create opportunities for the development of specific hyperloop technologies and develop local expertise in Saudi Arabia which be commercialized and scaled. The study will also facilitate the development of localized hyperloop supply chains and the acceleration of innovation clusters across the Kingdom.

"Our partnership with Virgin Hyperloop One is a matter of pride for us and all of Saudi Arabia," said Secretary General Mohanud A. Helal. "As we continue to help deliver the strategic pillars of Vision 2030, technology transfer and high–tech job creation opportunities that this relationship will bring are fundamental to our progress as a nation and our efforts to create opportunities for our bright young people. Having hyperloop at King Abdullah Economic City is going to act as a catalyst for a Saudi Silicon Valley effect and galvanize our software development, high technology research, and manufacturing industries," he added.

In parallel to the implementation of the Study, Prince Mohammad bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship will collaborate on the creation and publication of an academic paper outlining the economic impact of a Hyperloop Center of Excellence in KAEC. Additionally, experts from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) will visit the Virgin Hyperloop One testing facility in Nevada to conduct a technical review, followed by the publication of an academic paper.

"With Vision 2030, the Kingdom has demonstrated bold leadership to advance game–changing solutions. A hyperloop system could help enable Saudi Arabia to become a global transportation powerhouse, nurture the nation's innovation and entrepreneurial culture, and grow an innovative knowledge workforce," said Jay Walder, CEO, Virgin Hyperloop One. "I look forward to this collaboration with our visionary partners in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to turn this technology into a mass transportation solution."

"The U.S.–Saudi Arabian Business Council congratulates the Economic Cities Authority and Virgin Hyperloop One on this historic initiative for the future of transportation and mobility in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," said Abdallah S. Jum'ah, Saudi Co–Chairman, U.S.–Saudi Arabian Business Council and Former CEO, Saudi Aramco.

Virgin Hyperloop One's technology features depressurized tubes that carry on–demand passenger or cargo "pods" at speeds up to 1080 kilometers per hour. With speeds three times faster than high–speed rail and an on–demand, direct to destination experience, hyperloop technology can reduce journey times across Saudi Arabia, exponentially increasing connectivity across not only across the country but throughout the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC), which includes the countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. Traveling from Riyadh to Jeddah would take 76 minutes (currently over 10 hours) utilizing the land bridge for both passenger and freight movement, positioning Saudi Arabia as the gateway to three continents. Traveling from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi would take 48 minutes (currently over 8.5 hours).

Media Assets
Virgin Hyperloop One's media assets can be found here.

About Virgin Hyperloop One
Virgin Hyperloop One is the only company in the world that has successfully tested its hyperloop technology at scale, launching the first new mode of mass transportation in over 100 years. The company successfully operated a full–scale hyperloop vehicle using electric propulsion and electromagnetic levitation under near–vacuum conditions, realizing a fundamentally new form of transportation that is faster, safer, cheaper, and more sustainable than existing modes. The company is now working with governments, partners, and investors around the world to make hyperloop a reality in years, not decades. They currently have projects underway in Missouri, Texas, Colorado, the Midwest, India, KSA, and the UAE. Learn more about Virgin Hyperloop One's technology, vision, and ongoing projects here.

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at–3cc2–486d–a975–717b1bce0068