Refugees and Migrants

QUNO works with UNHCR on a range of refugee protection issues, in particular relating to conscientious objection to military service and to those fleeing conflict or violence.
December 2013

UNHCR issues ‘Guidelines on International Protection No. 10: Claims to Refugee Status related to Military Service’

QUNO welcomes new Guidelines on International Protection relating to claims to refugee status based on objection to military service released by UNHCR. These Guidelines focus on individuals who seek international protection as refugees to avoid recruitment and service in State armed forces, including conscientious objectors, as well as forced recruitment by non-State armed groups. They will provide guidance for governments, decision makers, lawyers and the judiciary as well as UNHCR staff. QUNO hopes that the new Guidelines will help protect conscientious objectors and others fleeing recruitment and service in the military when they seek asylum abroad.

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August 2014

A new Human Rights and Refugees Representative at QUNO Geneva

In February, Rachel Brett who has been Representative, Human Rights and Refugees (HRR) at QUNO Geneva since 1993 announced her plan to retire.  After an international selection process, Laurel Townhead has been appointed to this position from 18 August; we extend a warm welcome to Laurel. Laurel obtained her Master's degree in International Human Rights Law from the University of Essex in 2003. She has experience, among other issues, of work on women in prison, children of prisoners, conscientious objection to military service and support to asylum seekers. She was at QUNO Geneva as HRR Programme Assistant and Project Assistant in 2005-7 and comes to us now from her position as Policy & Campaigns Manager at the UK NGO Women in Prison that she has held since 2008. Laurel has been an attender of Peckham Quaker Meeting in London for several years.

Rachel will continue to work with us part-time as Adviser, HRR during a significant transition period. Her outstanding work has improved the lives of many, changed attitudes, built understanding and led to new international agreements. Rachel has worked on the needs of child soldiers, women prisoners, conscientious objectors to military service, stateless people, and children of parents sentenced to death.

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January 2016

VIDEO: Laurel Townhead talks about our Human Rights & Refugees programme

In this video, excerpted from a longer film shown at the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) World Plenary Meeting held in Peru in January 2016, Human Rights & Refugees discusses the work of our Human Rights & Refugees programme.

The Quaker United Nations Office Human Rights & Refugees programme works to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights through the United Nations system, with particular reference to the interface between human rights and armed conflicts, the protection of refugees, the rights of people in detention, and other Quaker concerns.

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November 2016

Putting human rights at the heart of the new UN refugee and migrant agenda

At today’s briefing meeting by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, human rights were championed as vital elements in the new global agenda on refugees and migration.

Peggy Hicks, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated during the event, that this discussion must not be “of whether or not human rights apply – but a discussion of how human rights are to be upheld.”

The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted in New York on 19th September sets in motion a series of processes at the UN level which aim to improve global governance of large movements of people across borders. The most significant processes will involve a UNHCR-led, practical framework for refugees (a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework leading to a Global Compact on refugees) and a State-led process to improve migration governance (leading to a Global Compact on safe, orderly and regular migration).

QUNO sees this as an opportunity to develop a more rights-respecting global framework for protecting refugees and migrants. Whilst the New York Declaration includes a wealth of human rights language, our key concern now is making sure that in the processes that emerge, the attention given to human rights is more than just lip-service.

This is why QUNO is seeking to contribute to this discussion. In particular, we would like to see:

  • The human rights of all people, regardless of circumstance, as a key message during the development of the Compacts and that this focus is grounded in existing international human rights law.
  • The Human Rights Council and other human rights mechanisms and expertise are utilised effectively to make substantive contributions to the development of the Global Compacts and to ensure their implementation. 
  • Civil society, including migrants and refugees themselves, are given a central role throughout the processes.

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February 2017

QUNO contributes to a new World Report on Statelessness

QUNO’s Representative for Human Rights and Refugees, Laurel Townhead, has written an article on childhood statelessness of children of prisoners, for a new World Report on Statelessness.

The World Report on Statelessness, launched by the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, is the most comprehensive resource on the global situation of stateless people. The second World Statelessness Report (2017) has a specific focus on children, exploring the urgency of and opportunities for addressing childhood statelessness. QUNO’s article focusses on the risks of childhood statelessness for children of prisoners, particularly for children born to foreign national women in prison.

For more information about the report and about statelessness around the world, see the two report websites: http://worldsstateless.org/ and http://children.worldsstateless.org/.

The full report can be accessed here (the article can be found on page 385). 

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February 2017

New briefing for Friends on opportunities and challenges for the protection of refugees and migrants at the UN level

We are pleased to launch a new briefing paper for Friends: ‘Protecting refugees and migrants under the New York Declaration: challenges and opportunities at the UN level.’

On September 19th 2016, the UN set a new agenda under the ‘New York Declaration’ for responding to large movements of people crossing borders. Our briefing aims to inform Friends about the Declaration and the developments it initiates for improving global governance on refugees and migrants. It also describes how QUNO is engaging in these opportunities, as well as ways that Quakers around the world can link up with, and benefit from, UN level initiatives.

This weekend, we are sharing this briefing at the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN) conference on forced migration. The QARN conference, at Woodbrooke Study Centre in Birmingham, UK aims to connect Friends in the UK interested in responding to forced migration issues. Our briefing and our workshop at the conference aims to connect our UN work and the opportunities it presents to local initiatives amongst Quakers in the UK. 

Photo: contributing to the tree of current actions Friends are taking on refugee and migrant issues.


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March 2017

A focus on the human rights of migrants at the Human Rights Council's 34th Session

The 34th Session of the Human Rights Council concluded on 24th March. During the session there were some important discussions and decisions relating to the human rights of migrants, an issue we are working on closely. 

On 10th March the Human Rights Council held an Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the human rights of migrants in the context of large movements. This was the first time that the Council held a discussion dedicated to migrants’ human rights after the September 2016 adoption of the New York Declaration on refugees and migrants, and its initiation of the development of a Global Compact on safe, orderly and regular migration. The Declaration – a high level political statement, and the Global Compact - a proposed new State-negotiated international framework - represent important shifts in how the international community addresses human mobility and displacement. As such, the Human Rights Council’s discussion came at an important time, giving it an opportunity to speak to the role of human rights within this new international agenda.

Peggy Hicks, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division of the Office of the High Commissioner, stated during the discussion:

'The international community has an unprecedented opportunity in the next two years to... learn from the experience of migrants, and to build a Global Compact that provides safe, rights respecting migration, and to ensure that future generations are spared the hell of desperate, precarious journeys.' 

QUNO followed this discussion closely, and we co-signed a joint oral statement that was delivered during the debate (attached). Our current priority is for the Council to play its part in making sure that the Global Compact is people-centred and underpinned by and consistent with international human rights law.

We also prepared a Briefing for Friends that examines these UN initiatives in more detail. It further describes how we are actively engaged in this work, as well as ways that Friends around the world can engage with, and benefit from these UN level initiatives.  

Laurel Townhead, Representative for Human Rights and Refugees delivered two statements for QUNO related to the human rights of migrants during the session. 

1. The first statement welcomed a set of Principles and Guidelines on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations and within large and/or mixed movements, developed by the Global Migration Group, and called on States to endorse them. See here for the video of the statement (number 59 on right hand panel).

2. The second statement called for a human rights basis to the Global Compact on safe, orderly and regular migration, with a particular focus on the importance of the role of existing UN human rights mechanisms in its development. See here for the video of the statement (number 25 on right hand panel).

QUNO was also pleased that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants was renewed in a resolution at this session. Finally, we further welcome the decision of the Mexican mission to run a substantive resolution on the human rights of migrants in the June session of the Human Rights Council.

Looking ahead, we encourage sustained attention to this issue by the UN human rights mechanisms, particularly in light of the upcoming consultations for the Global Compact on safe, orderly and regular migration.

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April 2017

Expectations for a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration: New paper

QUNO is closely following the process for negotiating a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. This process part of the UN’s response to the large numbers of people on the move around the world. The Global Compact was mandated by the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, a high-level statement adopted by States on 19th September and is due to be adopted in September 2018.

Following the adoption on 6 April of General Assembly resolution 71/280 on the modalities for developing a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, QUNO has prepared a short paper on expectations of the process.  This contains the steps which we believe are needed to support the adoption of a human rights based Global Compact (as called for in the New York Declaration and the modalities resolution). 

QUNO’s previous paper on the Compact, on input to the modalities resolution, is here.

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