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UNHCR hails Mexico as new refugee law comes into force

News Stories, 28 January 2011

© UNHCR/M.Echandi
President Felipe Calderón signs Mexico's new legislation on refugees and asylum-seekers.

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, January 28 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday hailed Mexico after the country's President Felipe Calderón signed new legislation on refugees and asylum-seekers into law.

Calderón signed the Law on Refugees and Complementary Protection on Wednesday after it had been passed last year by the upper and lower houses of the Congress of Mexico. The legislation incorporates Mexico's good practices on refugees, such as permission to work, access to health services and health insurance, access to education and recognition of educational qualifications.

Mexico has long been a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol and the country has a history of protecting asylum-seekers and refugees. But, until now, Mexico lacked a specific legal framework for dealing with refugees as previous laws did not comply with international standards.

This law conforms to such standards. It includes important principles such as non-refoulement (non forced returns); non-discrimination; no penalty for irregular entry; family unity; best interests of the child; and confidentiality.

Drafted in 2009 by the Mexican Refugee Commission, with UNHCR's technical support, the new law also includes definitions of a refugee in line with international instruments and it considers gender as grounds for persecution.

Mexico will, moreover, grant complementary protection for people not considered as refugees, but whose life has been threatened or could be at risk of torture, ill treatment or other forms of cruel inhuman treatment.

The country continues to receive refugees from Latin American countries mainly Colombia, Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. But refugees from other parts of the world also reach Mexico on mixed migration routes from South to North America.

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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

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency's Nansen Awards Committee has named Dr. Katrine Camilleri, a 37-year-old lawyer with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Malta, as the winner of the 2007 Nansen Refugee Award. The Committee was impressed by the political and civic courage she has shown in dealing with the refugee situation in Malta.

Dr. Camilleri first became aware of the plight of refugees as a 16-year-old girl when a priest visited her school to talk about his work. After graduating from the University of Malta in 1994, she began working in a small law firm where she came into contact with refugees. As Dr. Camilleri's interest grew in this humanitarian field, she started to work with the JRS office in Malta in 1997.

Over the last year, JRS and Dr. Camilleri have faced a series of attacks. Nine vehicles belonging to the Jesuits were burned in two separate attacks. And this April, arsonists set fire to both Dr. Camilleri's car and her front door, terrifying her family. The perpetrators were never caught but the attacks shocked Maltese society and drew condemnation from the Government of Malta. Dr. Camilleri continues to lead the JRS Malta legal team as Assistant Director.

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

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

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of people in former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan are still facing problems with citizenship. UNHCR has identified more than 20,000 stateless people in the Central Asian nation. These people are not considered as nationals under the laws of any country. While many in principle fall under the Kyrgyz citizenship law, they have not been confirmed as nationals under the existing procedures.

Most of the stateless people in Kyrgyzstan have lived there for many years, have close family links in the country and are culturally and socially well-integrated. But because they lack citizenship documents, these folk are often unable to do the things that most people take for granted, including registering a marriage or the birth of a child, travelling within Kyrgyzstan and overseas, receiving pensions or social allowances or owning property. The stateless are more vulnerable to economic hardship, prone to higher unemployment and do not enjoy full access to education and medical services.

Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has taken many positive steps to reduce and prevent statelessness. And UNHCR, under its statelessness mandate, has been assisting the country by providing advice on legislation and practices as well as giving technical assistance to those charged with solving citizenship problems. The refugee agency's NGO partners provide legal counselling to stateless people and assist them in their applications for citizenship.

However, statelessness in Kyrgyzstan is complex and thousands of people, mainly women and children, still face legal, administrative and financial hurdles when seeking to confirm or acquire citizenship. In 2009, with the encouragement of UNHCR, the government adopted a national action plan to prevent and reduce statelessness. In 2011, the refugee agency will help revise the plan and take concrete steps to implement it. A concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed so that statelessness does not become a lingering problem for future generations.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

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