Global Consultations on International Protection

Report by Elizabeth Ferris, World Council of Churches

On 12 December, UNHCR convened an organizational meeting for the Global Consultations on Refugee Protection in which the plan of work was adopted. Participation in the meeting was good with almost-full representation of governments (including some representatives sent from the capitals) and about 20 NGO representatives. NGOs, represented by ICVA, spoke twice during the meeting and the comments were well-received.

The Consultations

Erika Feller reiterated that the purpose of the consultations is to revitalize the international protection regime and discuss measures to ensure that international protection needs are properly recognized and met. The Consultations will take place around 3 parallel tracks (formerly called 3 concentric circles.) UNHCR stressed that the 3 themes are of equal importance to UNHCR. In addition to the consultations outlined here, UNHCR will also organize regional NGO discussions, encourage the participation of refugees in the process and hold discussions through its field offices. ICVA stressed the importance of southern and eastern participation in the Consultations, both for governments and NGOs. UNHCR indicated that they are reviewing the possibility of providing support to southern governments to enable them to more fully participate.

Track 1. To reaffirm the commitment of states parties to full and effective implementation of the 1951 Convention (and 1967 Protocol) and to promote further accessions to the convention.

An inter-governmental meeting will be held, hosted by Switzerland, in late 2001, to reaffirm this commitment. This will be the first ever meeting of State Parties to the convention. Governmental representatives at the 12 December consultations urged that the meeting address substantive issues and not merely be a formality.

Track 2. To examine specific interpretative aspects of the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol. This task will be carried out through a series of Roundtables by experts on specific issues. Participation in the Roundtables was discussed by many at the 12 December meeting with governments insisting on the importance of including governmental experts in the discussions and NGOs urging that NGOs be included in the Roundtables. These Roundtables are being organized by the Carnegie Endowment, the Graduate School of International Relations in Geneva, the International Humanitarian Law Institute in San Remo, and a research institute in Cambridge, UK. The papers will be published by UNHCR.

The schedule and topics for these discussions are as follows:

1st Roundtable — April 2001

Cessation (Article 1C)

Exclusion (Article 1F)

2nd Roundtable — July 2001

Principle of non-refoulement (Art. 33)

3rd Roundtable — September 2001

Membership of a Particular Social Group (Article 1A(2))

Gender-related Persecution (Article 1A (2))

Family Unity (Final Act of the 1951 UN Conference)

4th Roundtable — November 2001

Supervisory Responsibility (Art. 35)

Illegal Entry (Art. 31)

A number of governments expressed the wish to include "internal flight alternative" under this second track and UNHCR will consider this request.

Track 3. This track will be carried out within the Framework of the Executive Committee (with Standing Committee rules for NGO participation) and is intended to develop common understandings of the "gaps" in refugee protection and new tools and standards to strengthen protection in areas not adequately covered by the Convention. UNHCR will prepare a bibliography and background paper for each of the issues in this 3rd track. The consultations will be held in conjunction with meetings of UNHCR’s Standing Committee, although concern was expressed by NGOs about scheduling the September consultation during the UNHCR-NGO PreExComm consultations. We hope that this date will be reconsidered. The NGOs are also considering organizing NGO meetings around each of the Consultations to increase NGO input into the process. Concerns were also raised by governments about the scheduling of topics (with two sessions scheduled for issue no. 2 and only one session each for issues no. 1 and 3). A number of governments and the NGOs requested that the issues related to refugee women and children be treated in a separate meeting. UNHCR agreed to take note of these concerns and may well come back with a revised programme. The following should thus be regarded as a preliminary plan of action.

Tentative dates and topics for Track 3 consultations:

15-16 March 2001 (immediately following the three-day Standing Committee meeting from 17-18 March)

Theme 1. Protection of Refugees in Mass Influx Situations

  1. Practical Concerns
  1. Civilian character of asylum
  1. Protecting Refugee Women
  1. Protecting Refugee Children
  1. Overall protection framework

Standards and mechanisms to ensure international protection in mass influx situations:

  1. Mechanisms of international cooperation to share responsibilities/burdens in mass influx situations


28-29 June 2001 (immediately following the three-day Standing Committee meeting from 25-27 June)

Theme 2. Protection of Refugees in the Context of Individual Asylum Systems

(Note that the topics under this theme are scheduled to be addressed in two meetings — both the June and September meetings. No indication has yet been given as to which themes will be addressed at which meeting.)

  1. Migration control and refugee protection
  1. Asylum processes
  1. Strengthening protection capacity in host countries


28 September 2001 (although this is being challenged by the NGOs)

This meeting is scheduled to continue discussions of items from Theme 2.

1st quarter 2002 (date to be set in conjunction with Standing Committee meeting)

Theme 3. The search for protection-based solutions

  1. Voluntary repatriation
  1. Local integration
  1. Resettlement


Action points for churches and related organizations:

These Global Consultations on Protection offer an important opportunity for churches and NGOs to contribute to the development of new standards of refugee protection. If you have particular expertise or interest in a particular area, consider:

WCC contact person: Elizabeth Ferris, tel: +41 22 791 6318, fax: +41 22 791 6122, e-mail: