The Refugee Convention and "Border Protection"

24 July 2013

The UN Refugee Convention has its limits but its essential principles remain eternally valid and precious, writes Professor Ben Saul.

In an opinion piece for The National Times, Professor Saul writes that the problem is not the convention or its interpretation. The problem is our politics.

"The Refugee Convention is certainly old, originally adopted in 1951 to deal only with the postwar refugee crisis in Europe, and amended in 1967 to cover refugees globally.

"It is true that the convention does not cover every conceivable aspect of the world's refugee problems.

"It does not address the different ways that refugees move, including through transit countries such as Indonesia, or the different types of refugee populations, such as those ''warehoused'' for protracted periods in camps.

"But the convention's limits are not a good reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

"The convention's essential principles remain eternally valid, and precious, including that governments must not return anyone to persecution.

"Any retreat by Australia from that principle would have catastrophic consequences for human safety.

"It would also signal to other countries that refugee protection is no longer an important global value."