Laying the foundation for the protection of refugees: 70 years of the Geneva Refugee Convention

The Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted in 1951.

The Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted in 1951., © Picture Alliance / Mathieu Redoube/ABACAPRESS.COM

28.07.2021 - Article

The Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted in 1951. It had been drawn up amid the aftermath of two devastating world wars. Today, it forms the centrepiece of international refugee protection. It remains highly relevant – because there are now more refugees than ever before.

The Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted on 28 July 1951 following a special conference of the United Nations. It entered into force on 22 April 1954. The Convention sets out who counts as a refugee and what protection, rights and assistance refugees should receive. It also forms the primary legal basis for the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It was originally limited in both temporal and geographic terms, focusing solely on refugees in Europe after the Second World War. Its scope was expanded in 1967 with the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. Today the Convention has 146 States parties, including Germany. It remains the most important international document on the protection of refugees.

Marking the seventieth anniversary of the signing of the Convention, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said:

This Convention is a momentous achievement. It was drawn up in view of the immeasurable suffering that millions of people were forced to endure during and after the Second World War. Its clear aim was to ensure that this could never happen again. The Geneva Refugee Convention remains indispensable today. Because there are currently over 82 million refugees and displaced people in the world – roughly equivalent to the population of Germany.

More relevant than ever before

The number of refugees and displaced people has risen continuously over the last 70 years, primarily due to crises and conflicts such as those in Syria, Yemen and the Congo. In 2021 there are more refugees and displaced people than ever before – 82 million. The vast majority of these people find protection in countries and regions neighbouring their own. With the number of refugees and displaced people having doubled within the last ten years, the Convention is particularly important. It forms the legal framework that ensures protection and support for millions of people who have been forced to leave their homes due to persecution and violence.

Germany’s commitment to refugees

Germany’s situation is somewhat unique. It is not only the second largest donor to UNHCR, but also one of the countries which take in the greatest number of refugees. Germany provided almost 400 million euro for UNHCR’s work in 2020 and cooperates closely with the organisation around the world. It also campaigns for other countries to show greater solidarity and take on greater responsibility – both financially, by making larger voluntary contributions to UNHCR’s budget and taking in refugees, and politically, by working together to ensure adherence to the Convention. The Federal Government therefore continues to urge all states to ratify the Convention and the 1967 Protocol.


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