State Responsibility for Refugees in Times of Occupation

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Last week, esteemed academics and practitioners of international law descended on New York for what is known as International Law Weekend sponsored by several international law professional associations. One of the panel discussions, “State Responsibility for Refugees in Times of Occupation” spotlighted State duties during war towards internally displaced persons, stateless persons, refugees and protected persons under the Geneva Conventions.

Tom Syring, Legal Advisor to the Norwegian Immigration Appeals Board (UNE) discussed the moral and legal obligations facing a State that has intervened into another sovereign country. He focused on the situation in post-WWII Germany and how the lack of a national authority with effective control meant that the international community had to step in to aid those most affected by the conflict— European refugees. He highlighted the imminent need for an UN legal framework that sets out guidelines governing the consequences of occupation—specifically pertaining to a State’s obligations when anticipating a refugee crisis and the type of support system required by the State as a precondition before surging ahead with an intervention.

President Obama recently stated  “As a presidential candidate, I pledged to bring the Iraq war to a responsible end. That’s exactly what we’re doing — as promised, on schedule.”

Our obligations are clear; the US invasion in Iraq in 2003 and occupation was the precursor to the years of civilian bloodshed that have ensued ever since. The lack of security and widespread violence is the catalyst behind a mass migration of people—many who are now trying to survive without shelter, security, food or clean drinking water.  A responsible end implies one in which the US government takes responsibility for the resulting refugee crisis that has exploded in Iraq and surrounding countries. The US Government has a moral obligation to take a lead on providing safe resettlement options for Iraqi refugees. In the future, it may have a legal obligation under international law and rules of engagement.

– Rachel Gore is a Human Rights Lawyer in New York City and Volunteer with the List Project


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