Of all the ironies, today is World Refugee Day. Folks around the globe are hosting events that support refugee populations, that allow refugees to honor and express their hopes for their home countries, that consider the history of refugees that fled from their own shores. In the US, we are building concentration camps for tiny children.
Many of the families being forcibly separated at the US border are seeking asylum–they are refugees. So, while Jeff Sessions and others misuse the Bible to support their monstrous policies, I give you instead some foundational texts in international law to remind us exactly what we’re supposed to be standing for.
The 1951 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, clearly defines a refugee as anyone who
owing to wellfounded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
The Conference that drafted the Convention made specific recommendations on family unity:
Considering that the unity of the family, the natural and fundamental group unit of society, is an essential right of the refugee, and that such unity is constantly threatened…
Recommends Governments to take the necessary measures for the protection of the refugee’s family especially with a view to: (1) Ensuring that the unity of the refugee’s family is maintained particularly in cases where the head of the family has fulfilled the necessary conditions for admission to a particular country…
The Convention, as a UN creation, rests on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To celebrate the fact that the US this week withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council, here are a few of the parts most pertinent to the current treatment of people arriving at the US border:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…
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 brotherhood.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.
International organizations and sweeping rights declarations can feel rather empty at a moment like this, when it is crystal clear that it is nearly impossible to enforce them. These words aren’t enough. But they’re worth keeping in mind as you cultivate your outrage and take whatever action you can. If you want ideas, Slate is keeping an updated list of things you can do. Do some.
PS. For extra irony, and since I’m writing from Budapest, the Hungarian Parliament passed a set of laws today that criminalizes groups who help “illegal” immigrants, along with a constitutional amendment that forbids settling “an alien population” in Hungary. Dare we ask what this means for celebratory national myths about the Honfoglalás?