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What does it mean to be human? This is a simple question. My first thoughts are that I am conscious, breathing and alive. However so is my cat so this answer needs some work! If you ask a Scientist, you may get a different answer than if you ask a Lawyer. On reflection I think being self-aware, being able to do things such as work, communicate through speech and understand at a more sophisticated level than other animals or plants are certain characteristics of being human. Being human means, I am granted certain rights, these are known as Human Rights as outlined in the UDHR. Despite the acceptance of these rights there are many vulnerable groups around the world who have these rights violated or taken away. One such group is refugees, and, in this essay, I am primarily focussing on refugees in Europe.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 14) “Everybody has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” In other words, the rights of refugees are protected by international law. This law is commonly overlooked, and refugees often experience human right violations while trying to seek asylum. Abuse at the European borders is one issue faced by refugees. Duncan Breen argues that the reason for this is because Europe doesn’t address these abuse issues and because there are not enough legal entry systems in place that protect refugees. (Breen, 2016) The examples he uses are well documented and he supports his argument by discussing countries that have successfully implemented programs designed to protect refugees such as Switzerland and Ireland.
Not everybody agrees with the notion of human rights being given in every situation. Michael Blake argues that people already living in a jurisdiction have more rights than those seeking asylum. He theorises that immigrants crossing over into a state place obligation on the people who live there which they shouldn’t have to fulfill. Furthermore, he states “…They are under no obligation to allow unwanted foreigners to become members and may therefore use violent force against those who want to enter into the states territory.” (Blake, 2013, p.106) I disagree with this argument as everything he states is in violation of international law and human rights. The right to live free from violence should be granted to everybody regardless of where they come from. When we start being selective about who’s rights are protected, we leave more groups open to discrimination and greater risk of harm. Who are we to decide which people are more worthy of living free from harm and where does this then lead us?
Inhumane acts refer to treatment that is cruel and in violation of human rights. Kalpouzis and Mann (2015) discuss issues related to the conditions refugees are often forced to deal with that can impact their health. These include things such as lack of access to basic amenities like toilets, hunger, cramped living conditions and sexual assault. Their main argument is that the International Criminal Court has an obligation to take all human rights violations seriously not just the ones they decide are evil. Even issues that occur more commonly should be prosecuted as they still violate international human law. This is something I strongly agree with as even humiliation, degradation and things some may consider “insignificant” can have a huge impact on a person’s psychological wellbeing. As such we need to look at them in the same light that we view other crimes against refugees.
There are other factors that put the safety of refugees at risk. Human trafficking is another issue facing those fleeing from their country. This occurs in some countries more than others, for example Greece which has many undocumented migrants and lax prostitution laws making it easier for trafficking to occur. (Miller, Wasileski, 2010) It is also argued that some of the reasons for refugees being at greater risk of trafficking is that they often lack social support or access to legal assistance and that the government needs to implement better ways to protect them. I support this argument as it is the responsibility of the government to ensure it protects the rights of all people including refugees. If the current measures in place are not working, they need to look at other ways that may be more beneficial in reducing the trafficking of vulnerable people.
Sexual exploitation of refugees and gender-based violence is often associated with females as studies show refugee women are most vulnerable. However, there is also evidence of sexual exploitation of refugee boys who travel alone. It is argued that we must not overlook this, and further research is essential to come up with strategies, methods and ways of preventing this from happening. Freccaro, Biswas, Whiting, Alrabe and Seelinger (2017) argue that in order to address this it is essential that we look at the problem from different perspectives with a focus on the community, family and structure. I agree with this theory as it has been shown in Sociology that looking at things from many levels gives us a better understanding. The three main solutions outlined are vital and link with each other to provide better outcomes for migrant boys.
Another significant issue facing refugees is access to healthcare. Langlois, Haines, Tomson & Ghaffer (2016) discusses how the lack of healthcare has a detrimental effect and argues that it should be classed as a basic human right. In addition, they also state that “Exclusion from health care is exacerbated by the undocumented status of many refugees…”. I believe that everybody regardless of who they are or where they have come from should be able to access healthcare. Studies have shown that refugees often have significant health problems that include both mental and physical health. Denying them access to adequate healthcare without restrictions or waits, which is often the case, is detrimental to ensuring their health needs are met.
As discussed earlier in the essay, we can see that refugees face many challenges and human rights violations. Another key issue is the right to education for refugee children. Simopoulos and Alexandrisis (2019) argue that integration is better than segregation and has better outcomes. They recommend some key requirements that must be met for refugee children to have a more positive experience in the education system. Looking back through history we can see many examples of segregation that had negative outcomes, my belief supports the view expressed by the authors. Refugee children should be integrated into the education system, separating them can take away any sense of belonging and can further condemn them.
Finally, we will look at the issue of using surveillance including drones at European borders and the possible impact on refugees. Loukinas (2017) argues that human rights are already at risk due to excessive levels of monitoring and that this surveillance is an invasion of privacy. He further states that this puts people’s freedom at risk. A far-right political group in Greece called for increased surveillance using the justification that migrants are a threat. I agree with the author that there is no need for extra surveillance. If Greece was a country that used surveillance to help refugees, then I might reconsider my position however the evidence has shown that Greece blatantly violates human rights laws when it comes to refugees and this extra surveillance serves no positive purpose.
In conclusion, when trying to answer the question “what does it mean to be human?”, this essay has showed that being human can be defined in many ways. When I look at things that are happening around the world, I can see that just because someone is entitled to human rights it doesn’t mean they are granted them. Refugees are an example of a vulnerable group of people who often have their rights taken away and are subjected to treatment which is considered inhumane and in breech of International Human Right Laws.
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