Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Overview: Time to stop paying homage to the Convention and to fix it
As noted in Chapter 11, the definition of a refugee was first advanced about 60 years ago. At the international law level, it has remained (effectively) unchanged during this period. Likewise at the domestic law level, although as we have seen the definition has been subject to relatively minor statutory modifications.
The Refugee Convention has been ratified by well over 100 nation states and is one of the most important and successful international humanitarian documents. In Australia, the refugee issue is of widespread social and political importance. It is perhaps the most emotive and divisive social issue of our time. This level of interest in refugee issues was greatly heightened in 2001 when the Australian Parliament introduced legislation and border control mechanisms to prevent asylum-seekers entering Australia without a visa. This polarised public opinion and resulted in a groundswell of action from many people, including many current and former refugees, which in turn led to the establishing of many refugee and asylum-seeker support organisations. The preparedness of so many individuals in the community, and so many community groups, to assist asylum-seekers is, like any altruistic act, commendable.