• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Chile passes landmark domestic legislation on refugees

News Stories, 11 March 2010

© UNHCR/D.Guerrero
Former President Michelle Bachelet, who presented the refugee law last year, welcomes Palestinian refugees to Chile.

SANTIAGO, Chile, March 11 (UNHCR) Chile's Senate has adopted a refugee law that will enhance South America's growing reputation as a safe haven for people forced to flee their home countries because of violence or persecution.

The Law for the Protection of Refugees, passed on Tuesday by the upper house of Congress, establishes a legal framework for the protection of refugees in Chile and incorporates this country's obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. The Chamber of Deputies approved the law earlier.

Among other things, the legislation includes universal and regional definitions of refugees; sets out guarantees and obligations for refugees; and regularizes procedures and guidelines for determining refugee status. It must now be signed by the president before entering into force.

"This shows that refugee issues are of interest to all political sectors," said Fabio Varoli, UNHCR's liaison officer in Chile. "We appreciate that the debate and approval was so fast."

The refugee bill was presented in April 2009 by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who noted that democratic governments in her country had provided protection to thousands of refugees, while adding that "when the rule of law was ignored, several thousand Chileans received protection [overseas]." Chile hosts almost 2,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from more than 30 countries.

Passage of the law comes as the popular Bachelet leaves office to be replaced by Sebastian Pinera and at a time when the nation's attention remains focused on the response to a massive earthquake on February 27 that left several hundred people dead.

Passage of a refugee law in Chile adds to South America's renewed reputation as a haven for people forced to flee their homelands. Although Colombia continues to face problems of internal displacement, many countries are welcoming refugees from around the world.

In 1999, Chile became the first South American country to launch a resettlement programme in cooperation with UNHCR. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have since initiated similar programmes and Paraguay will soon follow suit.

This spirit of concern for the forcibly displaced is enshrined in the Mexico Plan of Action, which was adopted by 20 countries in 2004 to safeguard refugees in Latin America and to find durable solutions for them. The plan called among other things for the strengthening of legislative protection for refugees.

Almost every country in the region has national structures, legislation and procedures for the determination of refugee status. Most have signed the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol.

Carolina Podestá in Buenos Aires, Argentina contributed to this story

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Asylum-Seekers

UNHCR advocates fair and efficient procedures for asylum-seekers

Promoting Refugee Protection

UNHCR is engaged in a range of activities to promote the international refugee protection system, including refugee law.

Refugee Protection in International Law

Edited by Erika Feller, Volker Türk and Frances Nicholson, published 2003 by Cambridge University Press

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

South Africa: Searching for Coexistence

South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa where registered refugees and asylum-seekers can legally move about freely, access social services and compete with locals for jobs.

But while these right are enshrined in law, in practice they are sometimes ignored and refugees and asylum-seekers often find themselves turned away by employers or competing with the poorest locals for the worst jobs - especially in the last few years, as millions have fled political and economic woes in countries like Zimbabwe. The global economic downturn has not helped.

Over the last decade, when times turned tough, refugees in towns and cities sometimes became the target of the frustrations of locals. In May 2008, xenophobic violence erupted in Johannesburg and quickly spread to other parts of the country, killing more than 60 people and displacing about 100,000 others.

In Atteridgeville, on the edge of the capital city of Pretoria - and site of some of the worst violence - South African and Somali traders, assisted by UNHCR, negotiated a detailed agreement to settle the original trade dispute that led to the torching of Somali-run shops. The UN refugee agency also supports work by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to counter xenophobia.

South Africa: Searching for Coexistence

The makeshift camp at Patras

Thousands of irregular migrants, some of whom are asylum-seekers and refugees, have sought shelter in a squalid, makeshift camp close to the Greek port of Patras since it opened 13 years ago. The camp consisted of shelters constructed from cardboard and wood and housed hundreds of people when it was closed by the Greek government in July 2009. UNHCR had long maintained that it did not provide appropriate accommodation for asylum-seekers and refugees. The agency had been urging the government to find an alternative and put a stronger asylum system in place to provide appropriate asylum reception facilities for the stream of irregular migrants arriving in Greece each year.The government used bulldozers to clear the camp, which was destroyed by a fire shortly afterwards. All the camp residents had earlier been moved and there were no casualties. Photographer Zalmaï, a former refugee from Afghanistan, visited the camp earlier in the year.

The makeshift camp at Patras

Italy: Mediterranean RescuePlay video

Italy: Mediterranean Rescue

The Italy Navy rescues hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers on the high seas as the numbers of people undertaking the crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa grows.
Italy: Waiting for AsylumPlay video

Italy: Waiting for Asylum

Sicily has a high number of asylum-seekers because of its location in the south of Italy. In 2011, Cara Mineo was set up to provide asylum-seekers with a place to live while their applications were processed. Today, more than 4,000 people stay there and must wait up to a year for a decision on their applications.
Malta: Angelina Jolie meets asylum seekersPlay video

Malta: Angelina Jolie meets asylum seekers

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visits an old air force base on Malata and talks to asylum-seekers who have fled North Africa.