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OAS Hosts Debate on the State and Protection of Refugees in the Americas

  April 22, 2015

The Organization of American States (OAS) today hosted the 59th Lecture of the Americas, in which participants debated the current state and protection of refugees in the Americas, in an event that took place at OAS headquarters in Washington DC.

The Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Albert Ramdin, opened the event, titled “From the Cartagena Declaration to the Brazil Plan of Action: The New Frontiers of Protection in the Americas,” in which the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) of the OAS, Carmen Moreno, offered the welcoming remarks, and which included a presentation by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres.

In his address, Assistant Secretary General Ramdin emphasized that “The challenges of addressing the global refugee problem and internally displaced persons within our borders are of grave concern for many governments and countries around the world.” “When we leave human beings to fend for themselves in extremely difficult circumstances, we are disregarding in my view the fundamental rights of these people to a safe and stable living environment. In my opinion at the international level and from a humanitarian perspective, our policies and their results have not achieved the progress we have sought. “

For her part, Ambassador Moreno highlighted that, currently in the region, “due in large part to concerns over national security, the mechanisms of access to the systems of asylum have become more restrictive, forcing potential applicants to stay hidden in border areas or to return to their countries.” This is happening, said Ambassador Moreno, at the same time that the region is receiving a rising number of refugees in a period of unemployment and a lack of labor opportunities.

In terms of the role of the OAS, the Executive Secretary of the CIM recalled that, since thirty years ago, the Organization has addressed “the issue of applicants for refugee status and refugees in the region, as shown in resolutions adopted each year by the General Assembly and the Organization and the cooperation agreement between the OAS General Secretariat and UNHCR signed in November 2007, in which the OAS Department of International Law is established as the point of contact within the OAS General Secretariat to deal with this issue.”

“The Department of International Law, in the framework of the Inter-American Program on the Development of International Law, promotes the international law on refugees in the context of the Inter-American system, through the organization of courses and workshops on the issue in collaboration with UNHCR,” said Ambassador Moreno. “Additionally, the Rapporteur on the rights of migrants of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has modified its mandate to include respect for and the guarantee of the rights of applicants for asylum, refugees, stateless persons, victims of human trafficking, internally displaced persons, as well as other groups of vulnerable persons in the context of human mobility.”

For the CIM, added its Executive Secretary, “ensuring the full exercise of the economic rights of all women, including those of refugees, is one of its priority areas.” Therefore, she emphasized “the importance of reinforcing the progress that has been made in the region to incorporate in standard legislation on protection an integral and differentiated approach, including a focus on gender and the human rights of women, in accordance with international obligations.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres, said “The Cartagena Declaration on Refugees of 1984 adopted in response to the Central American refugee crisis was a true landmark, both for regional and global refugee protection. It not only extended the refugee definition, but provided a true compendium of international protection that covers the entire cycle of forced displacement. It put emphasis on preserving humanitarian space granting asylum, strengthening legal and institutional frameworks, and achieving durable solutions. And even more significantly, it pioneered a holistic view of refugee and human rights and humanitarian protection combined underscoring the critical importance of regional cooperation among governments, international orgs and civil society.“

The Cartagena Declaration on Refugees – the document approved three decades ago which broadened the definition of refugees in Latin America and proposed new cooperative approaches on the issue – has become “a brand name” which reflects the commitment of the OAS region to innovating and expanding the scope and quality of protection, said High Commissioner Guterres. At the same time, the Declaration of Brazil – the road map agreed last December between the UNHCR and 28 countries and three territories in Latin America and the Caribbean to address new displacement trends and end statelessness by 2024 – added the need to address new challenges such as forced displacement caused by organized crime, mixed migration and the protection of refugees, among others.

The core priorities of the Declaration of Brazil, according to Guterres, are: the need for collective engagement to respond to displacement as a result of organized crime; the importance of strengthening the protection response in the Caribbean; and the need for comprehensive, complementary and sustainable solutions that combine voluntary patriation, local integration, and resettlement into a holistic strategy.

In his conclusion, High Commissioner Guterres said “The Plan of Action of Brazil offers us a strategic framework to move forward the protection and solutions agenda for some of the most vulnerable people in the region. Let us seize the opportunity it has created. And let us keep the spirit of Cartagena alive and let this region expand the global example it is already setting.”

Following the presentation, the speakers participated in a question and answer session with the public.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The video news of the event will be available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-145/15