Countries want change to treaty on refugees

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The Independent Online

Governments must overcome "fear and mistrust" of asylum-seekers, Ruud Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told a 142-nation meeting yesterday.

"We see governments refusing to accept refugees because they are so many, refusing to accept them because they are mixed up with economic migrants, refusing to accept them because of a lack of burden sharing among states," he said.

The refugee agency convened a meeting of foreign ministers and senior officials in Geneva to renew support for the 1951 Refugee Convention, the treaty covering rules for treatment of refugees signed after the Second World War.

Several countries have said the treaty must be reworded because of the rising numbers of illegal migrants. Originally, they pledged a fair hearing for asylum-seekers, not to return them to their homeland or other areas of danger or imprison them for entering a safe country illegally.

Philip Ruddock, the Australian immigration minister whose Liberal Party won re-election on an anti-asylum vote, said he wanted to help refugees, but crack down on illegal migration. The UNHCR said 9,400 people sought asylum in Australia each year. The figure for the US is 125,400, and for the European Union 384,400. Australia wants to amend the treaty to help countries combat human trafficking and return illegal immigrants to their homes. There are 22 million refugees.

The two-day meeting was the first time the countries that signed the convention had gathered to discuss it.