Saturday, September 10, 2011
Famine-ravaged Somalia and the definition of "refugee"
Somalia, the east-African nation (if you can call it that) defined by clan warfare and a perpetual lawlessness, is currently facing a famine of Biblical proportions that the UN suggests could claim the lives of 750,000 people within just four months. Somalis have fled north into Kenya and other neighboring nations due to the instability in their country that has stymied efforts to supply food and medicine - but are these individuals "refugees" and would they be justified in their claims of asylum should they come to the United States?
As we all know, the UN definition of refugee and the US definition of asylum-seeker insist that individuals in each category must have a "well-founded fear of persecution" because of "race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." Those fleeing famine, however - though certainly warranted in their fear - don't seem to fall under this definition. Lacking food doesn't seem to suggest intentional persecution by the government or another group, and none of the enumerated elements in the definition seem to encompass - at first glance, anyway, those who are going without food.
The situation is undeniably terrible, and no rational person would dispute the reasons that the Somali people have for leaving their country or, hypothetically, seeking to relocate in the United States. The questions about their classification as refugees and therefore as potential asylum-seekers throws into doubt the effectiveness of the definitions of those terms provided by the UN (and the US), rather than the validity of what the Somali people want for their future.
At the very least, I think this provides grounds for an interesting discussion about the refugee/asylum-seeker definitions with respect to the vast array of peoples that they are meant to apply to.