Cessation of refugee status may take place when international protection is no longer necessary or justified. This can be due to voluntary acts carried out by the refugee or it can be due to fundamental and durable changes in the country of origin where persecution was once feared and where effective national protection has now been restored. Cessation is being given increasing attention in recent years, due to state interest in reducing their refugee populations in the face of resource strains and anti-migrant sentiment. This section will outline the relevant provisions relating to cessation in the 1951 Convention and OAU Convention, as well as provide comments on how cessation is interpreted in practice.
Article 1C of the 1951 Convention
Article 1C of the 1951 Convention provides that:
This Convention shall cease to apply to any person falling under the terms of section A if:
(1) He has voluntarily re-availed himself of the protection of the country of his nationality; or
(2) Having lost his nationality, he has voluntarily reacquired it; or
(3) He has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality; or
(4) He has voluntarily re-established himself in the country which he left or outside which he remained owing to fear of persecution; or
(5) He can no longer, because the circumstances in connection with which he has been recognized as a refugee have ceased to exist, continue to refuse to avail himself of the protection of the country of his nationality;
Provided that this paragraph shall not apply to a refugee falling under section A(1) of this article who is able to invoke compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution for refusing to avail himself of the protection of the country of nationality
6) Being a person who has no nationality he is, because the circumstances in connection with which he has been recognized as a refugee have ceased to exist, able to return to the country of his former habitual residence;
Provided that this paragraph shall not apply to a refugee falling under section A(1) of this article who is able to invoke compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution for refusing to return to the country of his former habitual residence.
The first four clauses of the article refer to acts carried out by the individual refugee which are understood to represent a lack of fear of persecution, or the ability to be protected by the country of origin (or former habitual residence in the case of stateless people). Key elements are the voluntariness of the act, and the effectiveness of the protection re-established.
Clauses 5 and 6 are known as the “ceased circumstances” clauses. They dictate the logic that refugees or stateless people can no longer refuse the protection of the country of origin or former habitual residence if certain significant changes have taken place. These provisions may be invoked by the receiving state providing international protection, and would usually be invoked for a group of refugees who fled a country a number of years ago. In addition, there are a few points of consideration:
- In assessing a changed situation in the country of origin, UNHCR guidelines prescribe that any perceived change must be determined to be of a “fundamental” and “enduring” nature before the circumstances can be said to have ceased to exist. “Fundamental” must be taken to mean major, profound or substantial. Durability of these changes is not indicated by the momentary subsidence of hostilities. The entirety of the political and humanitarian context must be taken into account, as well as peace and reconciliation processes and economic stability.
- The restoration of the country’s protection abilities must also be verified. Legal reform including the repeal of discriminatory laws, current relations between different ethnic or cultural groups or races, and functioning administration should all be taken into account. Free and fair elections and subsequent regime change are not enough to fulfil this element.
- Changes must be territory-wide. Refugee status can only come to an end if the basis for persecution is removed, rather than the case that the refugee has to return to specific safe parts of the country in order to be free from persecution. Not being able to move or to establish oneself freely in the country of origin would indicate that the changes have not been fundamental.
- Despite the mass nature of this cessation of protection, it is important to note that invoking the clause generates a rebuttable presumption. In other words, individuals should have the possibility to request for their case to be individually assessed in accordance to their specific situation.
Similar provisions for cessation of refugee status exist under Article 1(4) of the OAU Convention.
This Convention shall cease to apply to any refugee if:
(a) he has voluntarily re-availed himself of the protection of the country of his nationality, or,
(b) having lost his nationality, he has voluntarily reacquired it, or,
(c) he has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality, or,
(d) he has voluntarily re-established himself in the country which he left or outside which he remained owing to fear of persecution, or,
(e) he can no longer, because the circumstances in connection with which he was recognized as a refugee have ceased to exist, continue to refuse to avail himself of the protection of the country of his nationality, or,
(f) he has committed a serious non-political crime outside his country of refuge after his admission to that country as a refugee, or,
(g) he has seriously infringed the purposes and objectives of this Convention.
Articles 1(4)(a) – (e) reflect the provisions laid down in the 1951 Refugee Convention, and articles 1(4)(f) and 1(4)(g) provide for acts of revocation of status rather than cessation.
Revocation is another means by which refugee status can be lost. It is not to be confused with exclusion, cancellation or cessation. As stated in Article 33(2) of the 1951 Convention, refugee status can be withdrawn when an individual commits a “particularly serious crime” that “constitutes a danger to the community of that country [of asylum]”. Different to Article 1F, which excludes refugees based on crimes committed prior to their admission in the host country, revocation is invoked based on serious crimes committed after she is recognized as a refugee.
Issues in practice
- As the ceased circumstances under the cessation clause can affect large groups of people simultaneously, it is difficult to hold individualized RSD to determine whether there are “compelling reasons” to refuse return. This is where legal aid may be most useful. In mass influx situations in Africa or Latin America, refugees are likely to have been recognized under the regional instruments’ extended definitions, and may never have undergone individualized status determination. Legal counseling can therefore provide information on what refugees’ rights and duties are, including in situations of cessation.
- For individuals, re-establishment in a country requires the demonstration of serious ties, and should not be confused with ad-hoc and short-term visits. Refugees can have pressing needs to tend to livestock, trace family, and return for assets impel refugees to return to a place that is not safe. This should not be taken as either the voluntary re-establishing oneself in a country or re-availing oneself of its protection, nor should it be used as an indicator of the durability and fundamental nature of changes in a country.
- In a country assessment (for cessation), spontaneous or organized voluntary returns should not be taken as indicators that there is no longer a threat of persecution in the country of origin for everyone. Even if many return out of their own will, this is not to say that everyone of that nationality is ready to return. Some refugees decide to return even though the fear of persecution is still present.
- Any individualized RSD process determining whether a person can be exempted from cessation must take into account present fears of persecution. These may be completely different to the original reasons which pushed a refugee to leave a territory in the first place. Political activities in exile (particularly if prolonged) may play a significant role here, as well as new forms of discrimination present in the country to which return is proposed. Special attention must be taken in the case of the risk women might face upon return.
- As with cancellation, cessation of status does not automatically oblige the return or repatriation of a former refugee to their country of origin. It simply removes the protection granted by refugee status. To those who have lost their status through cessation, States are encouraged to offer alternative forms of regularization and/or documentation (e.g. naturalization, the acquisition of foreign passports and residency permits as foreigners) in the country of asylum or in a third country. Non-refoulement must be respected at all times. Long-term displacement can generate strong ties (economic, familial) to the country of asylum which should be considered in any such regularization proceedings.
- The Cessation Clauses: Guidelines on their Application (UNHCR, 1999)
- Guidelines on International Protection No. 3: Cessation of Refugee Status under Article 1C(5) and (6) of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the “Ceased Circumstances” Clauses) (UNHCR, 2003)
- Guidelines on Exemption Procedures in respect of Cessation Declarations (UNHCR, 2011)
- Cessation of Status: Executive Committee Conclusion 69 (UNHCR, 1992)
- Current Issues in Cessation of Protection Under Article 1(C) of the 1951 Refugee Convention and Article 1(4) of the 1969 OAU Convention (UNHCR and University of Washington, c.2001)
- Note on Cessation Clauses (UNHCR, 1997)