DW mentions that:

Since the start of the war in Syria five years ago, more than 4.5 million Syrians have spilled over the border into neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. None of the latter three countries has ratified the 1951 Convention, meaning they technically have no obligation to recognize the displaced individuals as refugees. While Turkey has ratified the Convention, it maintains a "geographical limitation," which means it still only recognizes refugees from Europe.

The "geographical limitation" seems pretty loophole-ish to me. Can someone shed light on the details of how it's possible, e.g. what article in the Convention is invoked etc.? Are there other countries using this "geographical limitation" trick?

1 Answer 1


The 1951 Convention was limited in both space and time. Its definition of a refugee (found in Article I(A)) was someone who was protected under pre-1951 treaties or someone who

[a]s a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

In Article I(B), it gave states joining the Convention the option to interpret "events occurring before 1 January 1951" as referring to events occurring in Europe or to events occurring anywhere in the world. Countries that picked Europe could later expand their definition to cover the whole world, but not vice-versa. Turkey declared that it interpreted the Convention to mean the former.

The 1967 Protocol removed the temporal limits on the definition (Article I(2)). It also removed the geographic limitation for newly acceding states, but states that had already declared that they would limit the 1951 Convention to European refugees were allowed to keep that geographic limitation (Article I(3)).

  • Thanks. It seems very odd that such widely adopted convention comes with such a big loophole... from article I, but then the Convention was initially intended to be temporary. Only in the aftermath of the Hungarian uprising from 1956 did the Convention rise to the status it enjoys today. I actually read more of it in the meantime, and Turkey which also withholds the right of employment from Syrian refugees (otherwise granted by article 17 of the Convention) is certainly using that loophole as much as it can. Apr 14, 2018 at 20:18

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