According to Wikipedia:

As of 2011, the UNHCR itself, in addition to the 1951 definition, recognizes persons as refugees:

"who are outside their country of nationality or habitual residence and unable to return there owing to serious and indiscriminate threats to life, physical integrity or freedom resulting from generalized violence or events seriously disturbing public order."

I'm not asking what the spiritual predecessors of that extension were; those can be easily identified as the African OAU definition and the Latin-American Cartagena variant.

I want to know by what procedure did the UNHCR extend its definition. (Who was for, who was against etc.)

For more verification of Wikipedia's claim, the 2011 UNHCR Resettlement Handbook (p. 19) really does say they have that extended mandate:

UNHCR’s definition of a refugee under its mandate

UNHCR’s mandate to protect refugees also extends to persons who are affected by the indiscriminate effects of armed conflict or other events which have seriously disrupted public order.

In addition to individuals who meet the criteria in the 1951 Convention definition, UNHCR recognizes as refugees persons who are outside their country of nationality or habitual residence and unable to return there owing to serious and indiscriminate threats to life, physical integrity or freedom resulting from generalized violence or events seriously disturbing public order.

(Emphasis in original.)

According to another UNHCR page, this extension seems based on some external decisions

Based on UNHCR's Statute and successive UN General Assembly and ECOSOC resolutions UNHCR's competence to provide international protection to refugees encompasses individuals who meet the criteria for refugee status contained in Article 1 of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol and is extended to individuals who are outside their country of origin and who are unable or unwilling to return there owing to serious threats to life, physical integrity or freedom resulting from generalized violence or events seriously disturbing public order.

What precisely were those "successive UN General Assembly and ECOSOC resolutions"?


As a partial answer, a first step was in 2005 when UNHCR adopted (so I don't say copied) the EU notion of subsidiary protection.

In 2004, a need to harmonise the principles of these above-mentioned laws into one instrument was attempted at a regional level by the European Union (EU) through a binding supranational legal instrument adopted by EU Member States: the EU Qualification Directive. Then in 2005, a non-binding EXCOM Conclusion was agreed at the international level by seventy-two states. This encouraged states to use ‘complementary forms of protection for individuals in need of international protection who do not meet the refugee definition under the 1951 [Refugee] Convention or the 1967 Protocol’. [citing]

To be fair to UNHCR, there were discussing these before in

There were probably more steps before they just decided to call these just refugees, so I'm open to accepting a more complete answer.

Another one was probably this public appeal of the High Commissioner:

In the September/October 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, reached out to the world’s policy elites with an appeal. He wrote, “UNHCR confronts a disconnect between the limited formal mandate of protecting refugees and the immense scope of forced displacement around the world today” (Guterres 2008:91). He predicted that climate change, natural disasters, famine, and unstable states would be the main causes of displacement in the 21st century and asked receiving states to develop a new “humanitarian protection compact” to meet the needs of those migrants who are forced from their homes, but are beyond the scope of the 1951 Convention (Guterres 2008:92). As Guterres articulated, the practical reality of forced migration today is that, increasingly, people around the world are fleeing generalized violence and natural disaster rather than individualized persecution. To put it another way, many of the world’s displaced people may look like refugees or feel like refugees to the average observer, but are not refugees in the technical sense of the word as it is used in international law. Thus, they may not be found eligible for refugee protection by the states in which they seek refuge.

[-- quote from R. Hamlin, Let Me Be a Refugee referencing]

The earlier evolution of UNHCR's thinking/position is recounted by Hamlin as:

For its part, the UNHCR has gradually come around to the idea that its mandate includes advocating for an international complementary protection regime. Although the Executive Committee has reaffirmed on a number of occasions that the 1951 Convention is the “foundation” and “cornerstone of the international refugee protection regime,” in recent years the agency has also taken to insisting that “the human rights base of the Convention roots it quite directly in the broader framework of human rights instruments of which it is an integral part” (UNHCR 2001, 2009). In this way, the UNHCR seems to have adopted the Goodwin-Gill/McAdam unitary approach to the relationship between international refugee law and human rights law. Although some states have, historically, offered protection to people who fell outside the Convention definition of a refugee for a variety of reasons, by the 1990s the UNHCR began to push states to offer protection more consistently and expansively. Beginning in 1994, the UNHCR explicitly defined the people within its purview using the expansive OAU and Cartagena definitions, not the definition from Article 1 of the Convention (UNHCR 1994). Since 2005, UNHCR has recommended that states integrate their RSD systems to include complementary protection as part of one “comprehensive procedure” (UNHCR 2005). [...] the agency maintains the distinction between refugees and other migrants simply by encouraging an expansion of the refugee category. It is strategically necessary for the UNHCR to promote the distinction between categories to avoid being seen as interfering in migration policymaking, which is closely linked to sovereignty.

An EU document notes that the UNHCR had been using (some version) of their extended definition for quite some time for statistical purposes, with the most recent expansion of scope in 2007:

The numbers refer to the following category of persons as defined by the UNHCR for statistical purposes: 'In UNHCR statistics, refugees include individuals recognized under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees; its 1967 Protocol; the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa; those recognized in accordance with the UNHCR Statute; individuals granted complementary forms of protection; or, those enjoying "temporary protection". Since 2007 the refugee population category also includes people in a refugee-like situation, most of whom were previously included in the Others of concern group. This sub-category is descriptive in nature and includes groups of persons who are outside their country or territory of origin and who face protection risks similar to those of refugees, but for whom refugee status has, for practical or other reasons, not been ascertained.'

In the early 1990s, when the UNHCR had started to issue position statements with some frequency, one of them (EC/1992/SCP/CRP.5) reviewed the "persons of concern to UNHCR who fall outside the 1951 Convention", and after looking at the various forms of protections for them that existed back then, concluded with a call for at least a uniform terminology:

A generalized threat to physical safety or security, external displacement and a temporary protection need are common elements in all these various and different approaches to defining the persons of concern. These would also, presumably, be the basis for delineating the category(ies) of beneficiaries of any new protection framework. As a subsidiary point, it would be useful to have one agreed term to describe persons who cross national borders in need of international protection, but who fall outside the 1951 Convention. They have been variously referred to as OAU/Cartagena-type refugees, externally or internationally displaced persons, persons fleeing danger, victims of violence, humanitarian cases, de facto refugees, B-status cases, and Temporary Protected Status cases.

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