The Refugees and the International Law
Based on the statistics published by the International organizations, around 43 to 50 million people in the world have deserted their native countries and fled to other countries due to racial or religious discrimination or social or security threats. This number is greater than the population of Kuwait, Ireland, Norway, Finland, Singapore, Denmark, Switzerland, and Austria combined [whose aggregate GDP is over 3000bn $].
These refugees have been forced to leave their houses, jobs, and farms and embark on, at times, thousand-kilometers journeys to foreign countries with completely different languages, religions, and customs in search of an honorable life and their basic needs.
The problem of the refugees is far from over; the number of the refugees increases as war and insecurity continue to ravage various corners of the world more than before. In the meantime, the refugees have hopes in the international law to support them, at least on paper.
For instance, articles 13 and 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights recognize the rights of the refugees to leave their countries for other countries, fleeing persecution and torture. They also grant the refugees the right to freely travel through all countries or take refuge in them.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] is also committed to making every attempt to protect and support the refugees and give them aid regardless of their gender, race, religion, and political views.
The Duplicity of the So-called Supporters of Human Rights about Refugees
Due to the Islamic teachings which instruct Muslims to be kind to their fellow human beings, the Islamic countries are now harboring the largest number of refugees in the world.
Based on the latest statistics by International organizations, half of the world refugees now live in Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Chad, and Sudan. However, the wealthy European states which always claim to be the great supporters of human rights and the drafters of the international laws are at the bottom of the list of countries harboring refugees.
Unfortunately, some of the so-called Muslim monarchs of the Persian Gulf Arab states, along with the advanced western countries, show the least amount of interest in helping or harboring refugees in their countries.
Meanwhile, two points better demonstrate the duplicity and irresponsibility of the western countries regarding refugees:
- According to the official statistics published by international agencies, two third of the world refugees are from war-torn countries of Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia. These are the same countries which have been torn apart by direct intervention of the western countries or by their proxy wars.
- During the recent years, the western countries have pass strict laws banning or limiting the entry of refugees in to their countries. Some of these countries even closed down their borders to asylum seekers, causing great human disasters by letting the asylum seekers being frozen to death or drowned in seas behind their borders.
The most horrible scenes of the mistreatment of refugees can be seen in the footage or pictures of the refugees kept in cages in the Manus island by the Australian government or the body of the Iraqi and Syrian children drown in the Mediterranean sea. These pictures are a blot of shame for the so-called western supporters of human rights.
The History of the Refugee Rights in Islam
Centuries before the formation of political systems of state-nations, international organizations like the United Nations or the UNHCR, or the drafting of declarations like the declaration of human rights, Muslims treated the refugees kindly and humanely based on the moral teachings of their religion.
The Muslims have, in fact, acted based on the teachings of the Quran, the tradition of the Prophet (s), and the instructions of the Ahlulbait (‘a), along with their own experiences in facing refugees who took refuge in the Muslim community throughout all of the past centuries.
These principles are as follows:
- All of the oppressed people must be supported and protected regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds: the Prophet of Islam (s) is narrated to have stated the following in this regard: “anyone who hears the pleading of another human being for help but does not rush to his aid is not a Muslim at all!”
As it is clear from this tradition, this principle concerns helping all human beings and not just Muslims. It also includes the helping and harboring of any human being who has fled war and violence in their own countries.
- The following verse in the Quran [al-Tawbah, 6] indicates that the Muslims are duty-bound to harbor and help all the refugees, even the ones who do believe in Allah:
وَ إِنْ أَحَدٌ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكينَ اسْتَجارَكَ فَأَجِرْهُ حَتَّى يَسْمَعَ كَلامَ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ أَبْلِغْهُ مَأْمَنَهُ ذلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَوْمٌ لا يَعْلَمُون
- And if any one of the polytheists should seek refuge with you, give him refuge so that he may hear the Words of Allah [and ponder them]; then deliver him to his place of safety. This is because they are a people who do not know.”
This harboring of the polytheists is because there is hope that when they hear the words of Allah, they might be liberated from their state of disbelief and polytheism which is the result of their ignorance and lack of knowledge.
Historical accounts indicate that once an idol-worshipper asked Imam Ali (‘a) whether he would be safe in the Muslim community if he wanted to meet with the Prophet (s) and ask him some questions. In response to this question, Imam Ali (‘a) recited the above-mentioned verse for him.
- The right to grant a person asylum or safe haven is a common right of all Muslims: with regard to this issue, the Prophet of Islam (s) stated: “If the lowest-ranking believer grants someone asylum, all Muslims must honor his decision.”
When explaining this Prophetic tradition, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is narrated to have said: “If, a Muslim army has surrounded a group of hostile polytheists, one of the polytheists calls out and asks to be granted safe-conduct to talk to the Muslim army commander and one of the Muslims, even the lowest ranking of them, grants him safe-conduct, it is incumbent upon all of the Muslim army, including their highest ranking commanders to honor such a safe-conduct.”
This tradition means that the right to grant someone safe-conduct or asylum does not belong exclusively to the Muslim rulers and it does not even need to be sanctioned by him. Rather, every Muslim, in case they enjoy a sound mind and have freely made such a decision, can grant a foreigner or a non-Muslim safe-conduct or asylum to live freely in the Muslim community with his life and wealth being safe and protected.
Considering these teachings regarding the permissibility of granting the enemies asylum or safe-conduct, it is clear that it is perfectly permissible and legitimate for Muslims to grant persecuted Muslims or even non-Muslims who are not hostile toward Muslims asylum and safe-conduct.
 (مَنْ سَمِعَ رَجُلًا يُنَادِي يَا لَلْمُسْلِمِينَ فَلَمْ يُجِبْهُ فَلَيْسَ بِمُسْلِم) Kulaynī, Muhammad ibn Ya’qūb. Al-Kāfī. Researched by: Aliakbar Ghaffārī & Muhammad Ākhundī. Publisher: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmiyyah, 4th ed., Tehran, 1407. Vol. 2, p. 164.
 Makarem Shirazi, N. Tafsīr-i Nemūneh. Publisher: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmiyyah. 10th ed., Tehran, 1371 Sh. Vol. 7, p. 294.
 وَ يَسْعَى بِذِمَّتِهِمْ أَدْنَاهُم [al-Kāfī, ibid, vol. 1, p. 403].
 لَوْ أَنَ، جَيْشاً مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ حَاصَرُوا قَوْماً مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ فَأَشْرَفَ رَجُلٌ فَقَالَ أَعْطُونِي الْأَمَانَ حَتَّى أَلْقَى صَاحِبَكُمْ وَ أُنَاظِرَهُ فَأَعْطَاهُ أَدْنَاهُمُ الْأَمَانَ وَجَبَ عَلَى أَفْضَلِهِمُ الْوَفَاءُ بِهِ». الکافی [al-Kāfī, ibid, vol. 5, pp. 30-31].