Chapter 8: “Too Hot to Handle” – Human Migration on a Rapidly Warming Planet

Protocols, Policies, and Regulations

I. International Protocols

It is important to recognize that the Government of Canada is a signatory of every major international protocol pertaining to human migration over the past 75 years. While not every protocol is legally-binding, it is important to note that each represents a commitment made by the federal government to uphold standards it agreed to at the international level. For the purposes of this discussion, five particular accords will be examined.

A. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a historic document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948 (three years after the end of the Second World War). It is an international (and legally binding) accord that has provided the foundational basis for human rights legislation the world over. It contains 30 articles that if universally applied, would provide basic dignity and security for all people worldwide.

Key provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights include (but are not restricted to) the following:

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of solidarity (Article 1).
  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person (Article 3).
  • No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 5).
  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile (Article 9).
  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home, or correspondence, nor to attacks upon their honour or reputation (Article 12).
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country (Article 13).
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion (Article 18).
  • Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization of the economic, social, and cultural rights indispensable for their dignity and the free development of their personality (Article 22).
  • Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, favourable conditions of work and protection against unemployment, the right to equal pay for equal work, and the right to form and join trade unions (Article 23).
  • Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and their families, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, and social services (Article 25).
  • Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, compulsory, and equally accessible to all on the basis of merit (Article 26).

B. Convention on the Status of Refugees (1951) and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967)

The 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees (otherwise known as the 1951 Refugee Convention) is a legally binding agreement that clarifies the rights of refugees and the obligations of all United Nations member states to assist with the support of refugees. It argues that states are responsible for protecting the fundamental human rights of their citizens, and that when they fail to do so, individuals suffer serious violations of their human rights.

The 1951 Convention is the first example of a legal definition of the terms migrant (defined as an individual who leaves their country for reasons other than persecution and enjoys the protections of their own government, even when they are abroad) and refugee (defined as a person who is outside their country of nationality or habitual residence and has a well-founded fear of being persecuted).

The 1951 Convention also specifies that a person may lose their status as a refugee if they return to their home country or become naturalized and permanently settle in a host country. Furthermore, an individuals may also lose their status as a refugee if they have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, serious non-political crimes such as rape, murder, fraud, or embezzlement, or are found guilty of acts contrary to the purposes of the United Nations.

Key rights protected under the 1951 Convention include (but are not restricted to) the following:

  • The right to access the courts (Article 16).
  • The rights to employment (Article 17), housing (Article 21), public education (Article 22), and public relief (social assistance) (Article 23).
  • The right to freedom of movement (Article 26).
  • The right to be issued identity and travel documents (Article 28).
  • The right to not be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting (signatory) state (Article 31).
  • The right to not be expelled except under strictly defined conditions (Article 32).

However, the key principle of the 1951 Convention is enshrined in Article 33—the right to non-refoulement. Non-refoulement refers to the right of a person to not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.

In addition, in 1967, the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees was ratified to expand the scope of the 1951 Convention, which originally was only applied to individuals impacted by events that occurred before 1951, most of which were in Europe. The ratification of the 1967 Protocol thus extended the protections offered in the 1951 Convention to all individuals who were designated as refugees by the United Nations and the signatory states.

C. Global Compact for Migration (2017)

The 2017 Global Compact for Migration was the first intergovernmentally negotiated agreement to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner. Although it is not legally binding, it is an aspirational agreement grounded in the values of state sovereignty, responsibility sharing, non-discrimination, human rights, and cooperation.

The Compact contains 23 different objectives for managing human migration at  local, national, and international levels, and undertakes to do the following:

  • Aims to mitigate the adverse drivers and structural factors that hinder people from building and maintaining sustainable livelihoods in their countries of origin
  • Aims to reduce risks and vulnerabilities migrants face at different stages of migration by respecting, protecting, and fulfilling their human rights
  • Seeks to address legitimate concerns of communities, while recognizing that societies are undergoing demographic, economic, social, and environmental changes
  • Strives to create conditions that enable migrants to enrich societies through their human, economic, and social capacities

The key objectives of the Compact include, but are not restricted to, the following:

  • Minimize the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin (this includes natural disasters, the adverse effects of climate change, and environmental degradation) (Objective 2).
  • Enhance the availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration (this includes cooperating to identify, develop, and strengthening solutions for migrants compelled to leave their countries of origin because of natural disasters, the adverse effects of climate change, and environmental degradation) (Objective 5).
  • Empower migrants and societies to realize full inclusion and social cohesion (Objective 16).
  • Eliminate all forms of discrimination and promote evidence-based public discourse to shape perceptions of migration (Objective 17).
  • Strengthen international cooperation and global partnerships for safe, orderly, and regular migration (Objective 23).

D. Global Compact on Refugees (2018)

The Global Compact on Refugees was ratified by the United Nations General Assembly in late 2018 and can best be thought of as an accord that fosters greater international cooperation between UN member states and is geared towards finding a solution to the global refugee crisis.

Billed as an opportunity to reimagine how refugees are supported in different countries, the four main objectives of the Compact are to do the following:

  • Ease the pressures on host countries
  • Enhance refugee self-reliance
  • Expand access to third-country solutions
  • Support conditions in countries of origin for a safe and dignified return

In addition, the Compact recognizes that environmental degradation, climate change, and natural disasters interact with (and add to) other existing refugee crises (UNHCR, 2018, p. 10). Instances of forced displacement because of climate and environmental events are explicitly identified as factors that need to be addressed in future international efforts aimed at addressing the global refugee crisis.

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