The 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees provided protection for people forcibly displaced by threats of persecution and violence. The convention defined these people as refugees, those who are “unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” However, while the 1951 Convention put in place important protections for vulnerable groups around the world, it did not provide protection for all populations experiencing forced displacement. This conversation will focus on people forcibly displaced by violence and conflict. Due to the definition’s emphasis on personal discrimination, many people whose safety is threatened by the violence around them but not necessarily directed at them are excluded from the same protection given to refugees. Internally displaced people (IDPs) are also excluded from the refugee definition because they have not left the borders of their country, even though they may be experiencing similar hardships as refugees. Finally, stateless populations’ lack of citizenship can make it difficult for them to access refugee status.
The UNHCR has taken steps to provide resources and protection to people who fall outside of the refugee definition but some argue that these populations are still not afforded the same level of protection and attention as refugees. A number of different solutions to this issue have been advocated for, ranging from requiring that governments and NGOs put more resources towards these other displaced populations to including these populations in the UN definition of refugee. All of these recommendations bring their own obstacles to their implementation. This conversation will explore the challenges non-refugee populations forcibly displaced by violence face and how to address these challenges.