The Geneva Convention of 1951 on the Status of Refugees sets forth an elaborate regime of legal rules that create duties for contracting State Parties having received refugees or being faced with demands for admission. Clause (2) of Article 1 of the 1951 Convention defines refugees and provides that the essential condition for being awarded the status of refugees is a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion due to which the person is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. If we consider a broad definition which is not specific to these set criterion, we can say that refugees are persons forced to move out of their national boundaries and are vulnerable cross sections whose basic human rights are at crossroads and this might arise due to a situation wherein the origin state has conflicting political priorities and the host state on the other hand, has conflicting priorities of balancing national interests and humanitarian obligations.
To get protection under the restrictive 1951 Convention, there must be a “reasonable apprehension” or “well-founded fear of persecution” or a “clear or present danger”. Although, the scope of this definition is limited to the grounds of political persecution but there are other significant reasons such as famine and food shortage which force people to move in search of safety and survival. The same Convention also provides for the principle of non-refulgent, according to which no person may be returned against his or her will to territory where he or she may be exposed to persecution. When a person is forced by circumstances to leave his country of origin or nationality, the immediate concern is that he should be admitted at the frontier and should not be sent back, nor be punished if he has crossed the border illegally. If the dignity of human beings is proclaimed time and again, a policy of shutting doors to undesired refugee arrivals would mean a deadly blow to the very idea of international protection of human rights, according to Professor Garvey, who writes meticulously for the Harvard International Law Journal. From the perspective of International Human Rights, the present legal situation raises a great concern. It is not always possible to distinguish, with certainty, between a refugee and an economic migrant. If an emphasis is placed on threats to life and freedom, there is little to distinguish between a person facing death through starvation and another threatened with arbitrary execution because of his political beliefs. The dominant view in this regard is that the refugee law ought to concern itself with actions which deny human dignity in any way, and that the sustained or systematic denial of core human rights is the appropriate standard. At this point, we can say that the restrictive definition as provided under 1951 Convention fails to reflect the full range of phenomena that gives rise to involuntary migration, particularly in the less developed world, its minimal protection against refulgent works as a pernicious injustice against many genuine refugees, writes Professor James Hathaway, an authoritative author in the field of International Refugee Law. Even UN reports and other authors have intended that the application of principle of non-refulgent should be independent of any formal determination of refugee status by a state or international organisation and considered a rule of international customary law. So, is this the high time to reconsider the status of refugee keeping in mind contemporary reasons and make a change in International Covenants for stronger protection to refugees?