Improving Life for Refugees

October 26, 2011 —

On the 60th anniversary of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, government officials, human rights experts and refugee advocates came to Georgetown Law to reaffirm the need to protect refugees and to propose improvements in their treatment.

“This convention is more important than ever,” said António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the keynote speaker at the October 25 event. In recent years, the world has witnessed one refugee crisis after another. “There are protection gaps at a global level.”

Guterres joined Congressman Sam Farr, D-Calif., Eleanor Acer, the director of refugee protection at Human Rights First, and Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor during an all-day conference to examine the issues surrounding refugee protection. The event was co-sponsored by the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Human Rights First.

A short film told the story of Pedro — a torture survivor attending the conference — who was forced to spend several months in U.S. detention despite having obtained a legal temporary visa to the United States from Equatorial Guinea. Professor Andrew Schoenholtz and other experts discussed how to improve detention conditions and asylum adjudication, expand detention alternatives and increase protection for refugees.

“We’re not looking for a miracle recipe,” said Vincent Cochetel of the UNHCR’s regional office for the United States and the Caribbean. “[But] together, we can agree on something meaningful.”

-- Ann W. Parks