Cross the border, and your human rights may stay behind

(from left to right): Susan Gzesh, Maureen Lynch, Howard Adelman, Deborah Anker

Scholars and students from around the nation and beyond joined to discuss the issue of migration within the context of human rights. As part of Northwestern University’s Conference on Human Rights, the topic at Friday’s forum was: Defining Forced Migration.

“Refugee law define a refugee as a person with a well founded fear of persecution,” said Deborah Anker, a professor of law at Harvard University and director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic.

But the all too common problem is that once refugees cross international borders into a country where they do not hold citizenship, they are not always treated like human beings, a notion Anker argues vehemently against.

“Once refugees are outside their country, they are owed certain rights by the refugee convention,” she said.

Anker was referring to the fact that refugee law is an international law that grants every human fundamental rights – independent of where they are in the world.

“Overwhelmingly, refugees are products of war,” said Howard Adelman, a former professor of philosophy at York University in Toronto and founder of York’s Centre for Refugee Studies.

Adelman gave the example of the thousands of Christians who fled Iraq due to persecution because of their religious beliefs. While many of them may have hopes of returning to their home country, he said, in practical matters though, returning could be very difficult.

Adelman introduced the concept of LIMS (Persons In Limbo): they cannot live in their own country, but other countries won’t take them in either. Or, even worse, the country in which they were born may not recognize them as citizens. So where does such a person call home? Without citizenship anywhere, they are deprived of basic levels of assistance and structure provided by governments.

Adelman said that as a low figure, there are about 14 million stateless people around the world. A stateless person is one that does not hold citizenship within any recognized state.

While the panelists all agreed that something has to be done, no immediate grandiose solution was given. But Adelman touched upon a humanitarian quick fix: “If we just divide up the game, and everyone took some of them, we could solve the problem – but that’s not likely to happen,” he said.

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