Refugees and the Red Cross: An Underdeveloped Dimension of Protection (Working Paper #66)

David P. Forsythe, University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Abstract: It is widely assumed that the international protection of refugees and displaced persons can be best understood by focusing on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), along with the hard and soft law or international regime associated with that office. It is not widely appreciated how much refugee law in its broad formulation overlaps with international humanitarian law and the associated traditions of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (also called the International Red Cross). It is the purpose of this essay to highlight this overlap and to discuss the contributions of the Red Cross network to refugee protection. The International Red Cross is not a tightly integrated network, and parts of that loose system of actors have long competed inter se concerning refugees and other matters. The lead Red Cross actor in conflict situations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has often had better relations with the UNHCR than with various members of the Red Cross family. But recent developments suggest a clarification of divisions of labor within the International Red Cross that hold out the promise of improved coordination and effectiveness. This in turn suggests that the UNHCR may find it has better organized partners in trying to protect refugees and displaced persons, although problems may remain on the Red Cross side.

Working Paper #66»