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The Law

Under international law, refugee children are entitled to a host of rights. They enjoy many of the same rights as adults, such as access to state services and enjoyment of state protection (e.g., access to justice) (ICCPR 1966; ICESCR 1966). They also enjoy special rights by virtue of their status as children, including heightened protection from abuse in recognition of the power differential between children and adults, as well as increased rights related to their human development such as access to education (CRC 1989; ICESCR 1966; ACRWC 1999). Finally, they enjoy the particular rights accorded to refugees: protection against forcible return to a country where they may face injury, access to the services, and protection of a state other than their own (Refugee Convention 1951; CRC 1989; OAU Convention II; Cartagena Declaration 1998).

Also relevant to refugee children are the rights of their parents. Under international law, refugees are entitled to work—to access both wageearning employment and self-employment—in the countries that host them (Refugee Convention 1951). Refugees also are entitled to a range of related rights that impact their ability to sustain themselves and their families. The right to own assets, to access financial institutions, to move about freely, and to enjoy safety and equality in the workplace (Refugee Convention 1951). When refugee parents enjoy these work-related rights, refugee children benefit.

Being able to stay in a specific place, to attend school, and to receive state services and legal protection are necessary for local integration into a host country. These rights, however, apply to refugee children regardless of their permanence in a country of refuge. Indeed, international refugee law is not designed to direct refugees to a durable solution. “[T] he Refugee Convention gives priority to allowing refugees to make their own decisions about how best to respond to their predicament,” and it does not require them to decide in advance how long they may remain in a country (Hathaway 2005).

The articulation of these rights in international law, therefore, should not be seen as requiring local integration, but rather, as making local integration as a durable solution available as an option for those refugees who want it. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different.

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