How are refugees legally protected?

The 1951 Geneva Convention states in Article IA(2) the definition of a refugee: A person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail him or herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution. 145 State parties ratified the Geneva Convention and it is a milestone of refugee protection. There exist further regional and national laws protecting the rights of refugees. The Convention is the only international document, emphasising also that refugee protection is a global task.

Above all, the principle of non-refoulement (Article 33) stipulates that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. Furthermore, a refugee is entitled to the right to work (Art. 17 to 19), the right to housing (Art. 21) and the right to education (Art. 22), among others. Under no circumstances shall a refugee be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a Contracting state (Art. 31).

The UNHCR is the governing body of the 1951 Geneva Convention and its 1967 Protocol. Read here the UNHCR’s well-designed paper about the 1951 Convention with FAQ.

Humanitarian aid initiative for Ukrainian refugees

A van fully packed with wheat, pasta, sugar, cookies and cornflakes. 4 passengers including me. 1,200 kilometers ahead, the distance between Meppen in Germany (my hometown) and Ostrołęka in Poland. Between these two small cities exists a city partnership since 1994. At the beginning of the war and the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in Ostrołęka, Ostrołęka’s city mayor started to publish calls on Facebook for food and clothing. This was seen by Anna Solbach, a board member of Meppen’s partnership committee. Thus, the partnership committee organised a humanitarian aid transport to Ostrołęka for around 700 Ukrainian refugees who fled to Ostrołęka since the beginning of the war. The city of Meppen donated 2,000€. I joined this journey to document the transport and to support with translation.

We started very early in the morning on Sunday, 22 May at 6 am and arrived at 6:20 pm. Luckily, there were no traffic jams on the road. After the exhausting journey of 12 hours there was nothing better than eating a delicious dinner with Polish soup, bread, and cheese. 

On the next day at 10 am, we unloaded the van at the City Center for Family Assistance (MOPR) which is comparable to the Social Welfare Office (Sozialamt) in Germany. It is the place where supplies for Ukrainian refugees are collected. Also the primary school no. 5 is in the building.

Ostrołęka’s citizens collected clothing for Ukrainian refugees and bought it to the gym hall of the primary school in Ostrołęka – including garments for children, toys, diapers, shoes, and prams.

Afterwards, we were invited to the city hall where we spoke with the city mayor Łukasz Kulik (41 years old) about the situation of Ukrainian refugees. The mayor told us that some Ukrainian people experienced severe trauma and face now difficulties to start a normal life. Ostrołęka has another partner city in Ukraine: Pryluky. No one came from this city because there was no possibility to leave.

Photographies from Ukraine in 2015 at the Culture center in Ostrołęka: the director of the institution Zenon Kowalczyk showed us the exhibition covering three topics – Maidan 2014, war and the civil population, and pictures from the Donbass region. War lefts unforgettable scars.

As you can see on the picture below, there is even a sign of the city partnership between Ostrołęka and Meppen. Partnerships beyond borders are essential for peace, especially in times of crises.

I love OKA = Ostrołęka

Author: Julia Solbach

Photographies: Anna Solbach/Julia Solbach