Global protective shield for refugees

70 years of the Geneva Refugee Convention Global protective shield for refugees

Seven decades after the signing of the Geneva Refugee Convention, displacement and expulsion still confront the global community with enormous challenges. The Federal Government is committed in diverse ways to reducing the causes of displacement and improving the situation of refugees.

A girl standing in a refugee camp in Greece

70 years of the Geneva Refugee Convention: displacement and expulsion still confront the global community with enormous challenges.

Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP via Getty Images

Seven decades after the signing of the Geneva Refugee Convention, displacement and expulsion still confront the global community with enormous challenges. The Federal Government is committed in diverse ways to reducing the causes of displacement and improving the situation of refugees.

The Geneva Refugee Convention is still the most important international document for the protection of refugees and is highly topical, since the number of people fleeing globally has continued to rise in recent years.

New record number of refugees

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced a new record number of approx. 82.4 million refugees for 2020. This number has doubled within a decade – and more than 40 percent of refugees are now under age.

There are many reasons why people flee their homeland: many do so because of military conflict or violence, while others flee political, ethnic or religious persecution.

Almost half of these people are internal refugees or displaced persons who remain in their home country. About 20.7 million people have temporarily fled to a neighbouring country, and over four million people are asylum seekers abroad who are seeking permanent admission and protection from political or religious persecution.

The “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees” was adopted in Geneva on 28 July 1951. Seven decades later, what is known as the “Geneva Refugee Convention” – expanded to include the “Protocol to the Geneva Refugee Convention” in 1967 – is still valid. It defines the term ‘refugee’ and stipulates the duties of receiving countries. Many millions of people have found protection under the Convention over the years.140 states are currently party to the agreement.

The Federal Government is involved internationally

Germany signed the Geneva Refugee Convention as early as 19 November 1951 and is still a party to the agreement. The Federal Government supports refugees and asylum seekers worldwide and is one of the most important receiving countries internationally.

In 2018, Germany also joined the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR). This is intended to improve global cooperation on refugee issues and contribute to a fairer distribution of the burden. Unlike the Geneva Refugee Convention, the Global Compact is a political declaration of intent – without direct legal obligations.

Financial support

In order to financially support those receiving countries which are particularly affected by floods of refugees, the Federal Government provided almost half a billion US dollars to the UN Refugee Agency in 2020, making it the second largest donor to the UNHCR.

Germany is also one of the largest donor countries for the region affected by the war in Syria and has provided over two billion euros in the last few years. At the last Syria Donor Conference in spring 2021, the Federal Government promised a further 1.7 billion euros.

Since 2016, the Federal Government has also been supporting affected countries through the World Food Programme with more than 1.4 billion euros, and was co-organiser of the first Global Refugee Forum in Geneva in 2019.

Reducing the causes of displacement

By providing international support for refugees, the Federal Government’s particular objective is to reduce the global causes of displacement and expulsion.

To this end, in July 2019, the cabinet introduced the Special Commission on “Causes of Displacement”, which established 15 core recommendations, including more involvement in setting up basic health structures in developing countries and support for countries of the Global South for the climate-friendly restructuring of their economy.

What is the Geneva Refugee Convention?

At its core, the Geneva Refugee Convention defines who counts as a refugee: namely all people who have to flee due to justified fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, affiliation with a particular social group or political conviction. The Convention also prohibits the receiving country from sending back or rejecting threatened refugees.