800 years on we are failing those that need protection

27 July 2015, 15:03 UTC | Myanmar
Image © Thapanee Lestrichai
By Brad Fagan - Media Intern at Amnesty International NZ | Originally Published by thedailyblog.co.nz

Last week, Amnesty International’s Executive Director Grant Bayldon participated in the lecture series: Magna Carta beyond the Commonwealth: Migration and refugees.

This series was held to commemorate the 800 year anniversary of the Magna Carta being signed.

What is the Magna Carta? Well, 800 years ago King John of England issued a document that established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Its other enduring legacy is that every person has the right to a fair trial.

It is a document from which New Zealand can trace the origins of our own bill of rights and is a precursor to documents such as the US Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

So how does this relate to refugees?

In Myanmar, the Rohingya people are treated as less than human by being denied access to schooling, only allowed to marry with permission, moved into virtual concentration camps and starved. At the heart of every refugee story is a failure of the state – whether deliberate or not – to protect the person’s rights at home. In Myanmar’s case it’s certainly been deliberate.

These people are forced to flee persecution of the highest order and face death on long sea voyages to have a chance at a better life which is also denied to them when they reach the shores of countries like Thailand and Australia where they are locked up in cages and detention centers without access to a trial or ability to challenge detention.

The refugee crisis is a worldwide phenomenon. Refugees battle persecution and injustice daily while their rights are abused in their own countries and the countries they attempt to seek refuge in.

The Refugee Convention – which has been ratified by 142 nations worldwide – and is known as the magna carta of refugee protection – came into existence to protect the rights of those seeking asylum and set out the responsibilities of nations granting asylum.

Unfortunately many countries are failing in their responsibilities to resettle refugees; many treat them as criminals.

Why? Because many countries still see protecting the rights of people who have had to flee their own countries as largely outside of their responsibility.

So how is New Zealand doing?

Well, here’s the problem: despite the biggest humanitarian crisis ever, New Zealand’s intake hasn’t increased in almost 30 years.

New Zealand is currently 90th in the world in total per capita intake of refugees – not a position we’d be prepared to accept in too many other international rankings.

A state’s obligation to protect individuals is a principle that began 800 years ago with the Magna Carta and now resonates in current refugee law. That these principles have survived 800 years demonstrates the value and necessity they hold. And that they have survived 800 years means that now is the time to properly put these principles into action for those who most need protection – refugees.

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