Legally and morally, governments have both obligations to help refugees as well as a right to control their borders. One of the way governments do that is by restricting immigration. These obligations are very well established in political theory, legal tradition, and ethical scholarship.
These legal and moral obligations stem from practical concerns related to protecting a country’s economic interests and its security from physical threats.
The essential question the resolution asks is whether or not these conceptual and practical interests outweigh other competing interests – legal and ethical obligations to refuges, as well as practical potential benefits that might stem from letting more refugees into the country.
In this essay we will unpack some of the key terms in the resolution, discuss political and ethical theories that underlie the debate, identify key arguments for both sides, and conclude with some arguments you can make on each side as to which one outweighs.
To contextualize the obligations that governments have to refugees, it is also important to understand the current refugee crisis and what it mean for someone to be a “refugee.”
There are currently 68 million refugees on the move worldwide, constituting the largest refugee crisis since World War II.
Lauren Crow, December 19, 2018, https://www.economist.com/the-world-in/2018/12/19/how-to-alleviate-the-refugee-crisis How to alleviate the refugee crisis
The number of refugees worldwide has climbed for six consecutive years. Some 68m people are now displaced by violence and persecution—equal to a fifth of the population of America, nearly half that of Russia and more than the entire population of Britain. At the same time, humanitarian support is chronically underfunded. As of September 2018 the United Nations’ refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (unhcr), and its partners had received just 31% of the funds they needed to provide basic assistance to millions of Syrian refugees and displaced people. The same dire situation exists elsewhere too, with less than half the amount of humanitarian funds needed in the vast majority of conflict-affected countries. If nothing is done, this trend of growing numbers and scarce resources will continue, with severe consequences, in 2019. ADVERTISING inRead invented by Teads Get our daily newsletter Upgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor’s Picks. This is not a sustainable situation. The answer does not lie in countries adopting harsh unilateral measures that target refugees and that run counter to humanitarian values and responsibilities. That will only inflame the problem. Instead, we must reduce the number of displaced people worldwide by preventing and solving the conflicts that drive them from their homes. We must rally people and countries to act together based on common interests and universal aspirations for security, dignity and equality. This does not have to come at the expense of our safety and economic well-being at home, but is an essential requirement when facing problems of international dimensions. Rights, funding, action Let’s look at the facts. First, 85% of all refugees live in low- and middle-income countries. Most people who are displaced by violence remain within the borders of their own countries. Those who are forced out tend to stay as close as they can to home, in neighbouring nations. Less than 1% of all refugees are resettled, including in Western countries. The world’s poorer countries are bearing the brunt of the burden. We cannot assume that they will continue to do this irrespective of policies in wealthier nations. If the number of refugees grows, as it probably will in 2019, so too will the tension this imbalance causes unless we do a better job of sharing responsibility. Second, for all the generosity of taxpayers in the West and all the lives that are saved by this, the billions of dollars in humanitarian aid provided annually do not come close to meeting the needs of 68m forcibly displaced people, let alone if the numbers keep growing.
Despite the growth in the number of refugees, countries around the world are restricting the number of refugees they admit.
Stephen Knight, December 15, 2018, https://www.axios.com/how-western-nations-are-closing-the-door-on-refugee-and-migrants-2b7f434f-6339-4d7e-b776-3a2c1b314d1d.html How Western nations are closing the door on refugees and migrants
Europe and the U.S. have seen a recent rise in anti-immigrant sentiment that has fueled policies seeking to keep out refugees and migrants. Why it matters: As the number of displaced people worldwide continues to grow, the burden of caring for refugees is increasingly falling on developing nations. And resettlement to wealthier nations “is a solution that is genuinely and urgently needed by more people than there are places for them made available by governments,” Chris Boian, spokesperson for UNHCR, told Axios. Show less “There are actions and behaviors and border restrictions that are taking place around the world that would not be taking place around the world without the influence — and dare I say leadership — of the Trump administration.” — Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, told Axios. Americans are more likely to say they want fewer immigrants admitted to the U.S. than more, according to a new Pew Research survey. But the sentiment is much more strongly seen in European countries — more than 70% of Italians, Greeks and Hungarians said they think their nations should allow fewer immigrants in. In the U.S., President Trump has cut the refugee cap two years in a row. Just 22,000 refugees were admitted in fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 30 — the lowest number in more than 40 years. The
The US has substantially shrunk its refugee resettlement
Michael Clemens, February 5, 2019, https://www.cgdev.org/blog/president-has-mostly-wiped-out-us-refugee-resettlement-other-countries-arent-picking-slack The President Has Mostly Wiped out US Refugee Resettlement. Other Countries Aren’t Picking up the Slack.
The lead White House official for immigration policy, Stephen Miller, is quoted as seeking to end all refugee resettlement in the United States. This has caused an uproar. But few appear to realize that the U.S. President, at Miller’s direction, is already most of the way there—and that this policy in the US has big implications for the rest of the world, especially if other countries fail to step up and fill the growing gap. A look at the UN Refugee Agency’s data shows: The current Administration has already eliminated three quarters of refugee arrivals Due to the President’s policy, so far there are about 87,000 refugees “missing” from the US. Other countries are not resettling more refugees to substantially offset the US decline The US Administration has eliminated almost half of the world’s total resettlement spots for refugees Here is how I arrive at those rough estimates. First, I need a way of approximately estimating how many refugees would have been resettled in the US if not for the current administration. After all, if refugee arrivals fell, that could be because fewer people needed resettlement. RELATED EXPERTS Photo of Michael Clemens Michael Clemens Co-Director of Migration, Displacement, and Humanitarian Policy and Senior Fellow To do that, I use refugee resettlement to the rest of the world, after 2016, to build an estimate of how many refugees would have arrived in the US after 2016 if it had continued to receive refugees as it had before. In the years 2008–2016, refugee arrivals in the US moved in tandem with arrivals in other countries: A year-to-year change of 1 in the number of resettled refugees arriving in a non-US country was associated with a year-to-year change of 1.82 refugees arriving in the U.S. in that year. And the number of refugees being resettled by non-US countries did fall somewhat after 2016. If the US numbers had fallen in tandem, according to the pre-2016 pattern, US refugee resettlement would have fallen even without a change in US policy. This graph shows the actual number of resettled refugees to the US, in solid red, and to all other countries in solid green, in UN data. Between 2016 and 2018, refugee resettlement to the US fell by 61,648, and resettlement to other countries fell by 8,948. The dotted red line shows how much US resettlement would have fallen if its decline after 2016 had been proportionate to the non-US decline, following the pre-2016 pattern. US resettlement would only have fallen by 16,264. A chart of arrivals of resettled refugees to the US and other countries, plus a hypothetical line describing an alternate US policy This allows some back-of-the-envelope calculations of the magnitude of the US Administration’s change in policy. First, this means that in 2018, US refugee resettlement was down 73% from what it might have been if the US Administration had not sharply changed policy. That is a great deal of progress toward Miller’s reported goal of eliminating the program. In 2017 the difference between the solid red and dotted red lines was 41,515 refugees, and in 2018 the difference was an additional 45,384. Bottom line: By the end of 2018, there were a total of 86,899 refugees “missing” from the United States: people who would have received protection in America if the US Administration had not closed its doors. Second, it means that other countries are not stepping in to resettle refugees who have been barred from the United States by the current Administration. It is possible that they are doing so in some measure: In the above graph, it is possible that the green line would have fallen even further if the US had not sharply changed policy. But what is clear is that the large majority of those barred from resettlement to the US are not being resettled elsewhere. They simply aren’t being resettled at all. Third, this back-of-the-envelope estimate implies that the US change in policy is singlehandedly responsible for eliminating about half of the world’s refugee resettlement spots. Combining the total actual resettlement by non-US countries with the hypothetical resettlement by the US, total resettlement by the whole world is down 45% from what it would have been if not for the US Administration’s sharp change in policy. The US has singlehandedly eliminated about half of the annual refugee resettlement slots on earth. Something to watch for in 2019: How will the rest of the world respond? Will it accept the de-facto elimination of most refugee resettlement, or pressure the US to alter its course, or increase its own resettlement in response? Download the Stata code and associated data for this analysis here. RELATED TOPICS: US Development Policy, US Immigration, Refugees and Displacement DISCLAIMER CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.
And Europe has also shrunk its refugee resettlement
Sally Hayden is a journalist focusing on migration and humanitarian crises, February 5, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/05/eu-deal-libya-refugees-libyan-detention-centres
By February 2018, Haftom had survived smugglers in the Sahara and police in Sudan. He boarded a flimsy rubber boat on the Libyan coast and spent 12 hours at sea before being caught and brought back again by the Libyan coastguard. Like tens of thousands of others who’ve gone through the same EU-approved ordeal, he was then locked up indefinitely. He died days before Christmas. Saturday marked two years since Italy, backed by the EU, did a deal to spend tens of millions of euros funding the Libyan coastguard, which intercepts boats heading for Italy and returns refugees and migrants to a war zone. While much of the justified outrage against European migration policies has been caused by the criminalisation of search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean, the deadliest sea route in the world, no one seems to be tracking the number of refugees and migrants dying in horrific conditions after being sent back to Libya as a direct result of EU policy. Haftom, the 32-year-old Eritrean dentist who died in detention after being sent back to Libya Haftom, the 32-year-old Eritrean dentist who died in detention after being sent back to Libya For the past six months I’ve been in daily contact with detainees in nine different detention centres who use hidden phones to reveal what’s going on at huge risk to themselves. EU leaders continue to promote the idea that arrivals in Europe and deaths at sea are dropping. But what about the untold suffering of thousands of men, women, and children, whom the EU has effectively turned away? They speak of going days without food and of drinking toilet water to survive. Some have stopped speaking, forgotten their families, sit crouched in a corner and wet themselves from trauma, according to witnesses. Couples are separated – some of the roughly 640 detained children are held with their mothers, though those over 14 are kept in adult cells. In one centre, Triq al Sikka, infected detainees are locked with others in a dark room and have been repeatedly left without tuberculosis medication, in one case for more than a month. In October, a 28-year-old Somali set himself on fire there after saying he saw no other way out. EU support for Libya contributes to ‘extreme abuse’ of refugees, says study Read more Advertisement In early January dozens of refugees and migrants, brought by the coastguard to the Libyan port city of Khoms, were forced back to smugglers by Libyan guards in Souq al-Khamis detention centre. They now risk torture if they can’t raise an the $5,000 ransom that has already been demanded. More than 40 detainees in just one centre say they’ve been imprisoned for more than a year, and have no hope of help any time soon. The UNHCR says it’s aiming to evacuate 2,500 people in 2019 but needs countries to step up and offer resettlement places. Even if this target is met, it will be a small percentage of the 15,000 who were returned to Libya last year after trying to cross the Mediterranean. Abdulaziz, the Somali who set himself on fire in October Abdulaziz, the Somali who set himself on fire at the Triq al Sikka detention centre in October Last month, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released reports condemning the conditions refugees are being held in. On Friday, more than 50 major organisations, including Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders, wrote an open letter, saying: “EU leaders have allowed themselves to become complicit in the tragedy unfolding before their eyes.” Six months ago, any pretence that Libya was a safe place to send refugees back to crumbled completely, when the worst fighting in years broke out in the capital, Tripoli. Refugee detainees were ousted from some detention centres and made to move weapons or pack bullets. In September, Haftom was one of hundreds of refugees and migrants transported to a detention centre in Zintan, far outside the capital, ostensibly because it was more secure. At least eight people have died at that centre since mid-September, according to detainees. One was a five- or six-year-old boy who died from appendicitis because he didn’t get the necessary medical care. Dinghies with 170 migrants on board missing in Med Read more “It is hard to talk about this life. I am also losing hope. Please share this to the world and tell [them] our problems before many lives [are] gone,” an Eritrean still imprisoned there messaged me this week. Though friends believed Haftom developed a heart problem, it wasn’t clear what the final cause of his death was. “So many people [are] getting ill,” messaged his fellow detainee. “They take them and [put] them in one house and they don’t give them any medication.” The Eritrean also said Haftom knew he had reached the end. “Everyone in here [thinks that] if he gets sick. No one is thinking that they are going to be OK. They are thinking only it’s our turn.”
Practically speaking the resolution asks the simple question of whether or not the restrictions that have been placed on the movement of these millions of refugees to the developed world are permissible
There is certainly a debate about how “refugees” should be defined. Defining them is important because “refugees” are entitled to certain legal claims and resources under various international legal conventions that will be discussed in more detail later and because you want to be able to focus your arguments.
Under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, a refugee is someone who has been granted asylum, however the UN considers individuals fleeing persecution or war to be refuges, even if they have not yet obtained asylum.
All individuals who are moving to improve the quality of their lives are not refugees, they are migrants. Refugees are limited to those persons fleeing war or persecution.
Jeanne Park, September 23, 2015, Europe’s Migration Crisis, https://www.pravo.unizg.hr/_download/repository/semiunar_migrants.docx
An asylum seeker is defined as a person fleeing persecution or conflict, and therefore seeking international protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention on the Status of Refugees; a refugee is an asylum seeker whose claim has been approved. However, the UN considers migrants fleeing war or persecution to be refugees, even before they officially receive asylum. (Syrian and Eritrean nationals, for example, enjoy prima facie refugee status.) An economic migrant, by contrast, is person whose primary motivation for leaving his or her home country is economic gain. The term “migrant” is seen as an umbrella term for all three groups. (Said another way: all refugees are migrants, but not all migrants are refugees.))
Once someone is properly designated a refugee, he or she is entitled to asylum in another country under principles of international law. He or she has a right to receive membership somewhere and not to be returned (the right of non-refoulement).
Max Cherem, September 29, 2015, assistant professor of philosophy, has been appointed as the Marlene Crandell Francis Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Journal of Political Philosophy, Refugee Rights: Against Expanding the Definition of a “Refugee” and Unilateral Protection Elsewhere, p. 1-23 DOI: 10.1111/jopp.12071
Having moved past the humanitarian definition’s interest-based conception of refugee rights, I conclude by showing why protection elsewhere schemes do not allow legitimate states to permissibly achieve the unilateral exclusion of all outsiders, including refugees. The core of refugee law isn’t simply about meeting a certain kind of need. It is also about avoiding a specific wrong: returning people to persecution. Contrary to popular misconceptions, refugees do “not have a right to admission as such, but rather a right to protection which includes the right to non-refoulement.” Refugees cannot be sent back. They must receive membership somewhere. But, beyond the state where they flee, they can be protected by another state that agrees to accept them as members. The difference between refraining from refoulement and granting new membership is key to protection elsewhere schemes. By relying on this difference such schemes distinguish between respecting versus protecting or fulfilling rights. Following standard terminology, we can say rights claims must be reasonably secured to be enjoyed. To secure rights, actors must discharge three correlative duties: (i) avoid depriving people of their rights, (ii) protect people from being so deprived, and (iii) aid people who are deprived. These duties can fall on different actors. While everyone has duties to respect rights, only certain actors have duties to protect specific persons against deprivations and fulfill their rights if deprived. Governments may have duties to respect, protect, and fulfill rights of those in their jurisdiction, but merely duties to respect outsiders’ rights.
Pro teams will want to emphasize this limited definition of “refugee” – someone fleeing war or persecution — because it means they are not simply arguing for higher levels of immigration for millions (maybe even more than a billion) people simply seeking to improve their quality of life.
On balance, refugee restrictions in developed countries are permissible.
There are few wording issues that need to be tackled.
Refugee restrictions. There are couple of different things that can be meant by “refugee restrictions.”
First, “refugee restrictions” can refer to the caps developed countries place on the number of refugees that can enter their countries. The total number of refugees that countries are accepting each year is generally decreasing and I think this is what the writers of the resolution meant for you t debate about.
Second, “refugee restrictions” could refer to restrictions refugees face once they are admitted to a country. For example, maybe refugees cannot access certain social services that citizens cannot. Pro teams could argue for lifting those particular restrictions.
Developed countries. The definition of a “developed country” is vague, but it includes more advanced economies —
A developed country—also called an industrialized country—has a mature and sophisticated economy, usually measured by gross domestic product (GDP) and/or average income per resident. Developed countries have advanced technological infrastructure and have diverse industrial and service sectors. Their citizens typically enjoy access to quality health care and higher education.
So, the general question the resolution asks is whether or not countries with more “advanced economies” should accept refugees from countries with “less advanced” economies.
It is certainly the case that the refugees are fleeing from “less advanced” economies, which would be a generous description of those economies. Many of the economies the refugees flee from have completely collapsed. We don’t see significant debate over whether or not the refugees are fleeing from less advanced economies.
On the other hand, there may be some debate about what economies are “developed.” The United States clearly counts, and so does Canada, Germany, the UK, and Japan. But are China examples relevant? Is Saudi Arabia a developed country? Since Public Forum debaters don’t read plans, the details of every country will not matter, but they could be relevant when discussing particular examples.
Permissible. I think “permissible” is the strangest term in the resolution and could set up some interesting debates.
“Permissible” literally means to have the to do something. For example, I could give you the permission to skip your homework.
In the context of the resolution, there are three ways to look at the term.
First, whether or not the restrictions are legally permissible. Although countries do have some obligations under international law to accept refugees, those legal agreements do not specify a number of refugees and I think any Con team would have great difficulty arguing that the existing restrictions are not legally permissible. Some creative Pro teams may try this approach.
Second, there is a question of whether or not restrictions are ethically permissible. Con teams could argue they are not.
Third, there is a question of whether or not the restrictions are desirable. I think this is the question the authors of the resolution meant for everyone to debate, and I think it is the one that may end up being debated, but I’m not sure how the resolution asks it. Nonetheless, I’d be prepared for a debate about the desirability of accepting more refugees.
As a final note, I think it is worth pointing out that the resolution requires the Pro to defend the status quo. This is a bit odd for this type of resolution, but it is what it is.
Underlying the debate about whether or not obligations toward refugees outweigh a state’s right to control its own borders is the question of how a country should approach the world. Should countries be concerned (mostly) with their own national interests and rely on themselves to solve problems, or should they be concerned with more international interests and embrace more international solutions?
Advocates of acting exclusively in the “national interest” ground their arguments in the tradition of foreign policy realism. Realists argue that countries will inevitably act out of self-interest and that countries should act out of self-interest.
Realists argue that the US should only look out for its immediate security and economic interests. Foreign policy realists draw on the 14th century works of Niccolo Machiavelli, the 15th century works of Thomas Hobbes, and the 16th century work of Rosseau. These philosophers argued that human beings are inherently self-interested, that many humans are evil, that interests are often zero-sum, and that centralized power is often necessary to control impulses. Hence, international politics always exists in a “state of war” or “anarchy” and governmental actors should always look to protect the national interest. In adapting the works of these philosophers to foreign policy, realists make a number of statements which they say describe the nature of the international system:
- Some leaders are inherently evil and lust for power
- Leaders of states act to promote the self-interest of the state
- Resources are scarce and interests are often zero-sum
- States are primarily interested in “self-help”
- States will act in their own self-interest
- States will always act to counterbalance the relative power gains of other states
- The nation state is the “primary unit of analysis.” Understanding the action of individuals or private groups is not important to understanding foreign policy.
Leading realist theorists include Hans Morgenthau, Kenneth Waltz, Robert Jervis, and George Kennan (among others)
Writing in 1950, Hans Morgenthau argued that states need to look out for their own interest and protect their own power because (a) governments have an obligation to their own citizens, (b) protecting power protects future generations, (c) there is no effective international system to otherwise protect the interest of states; and (d) if the national interest is not protected the state will eventually collapse, making it impossible to protect any other interest.( (The American Political Science Review, The Mainsprings of American Foreign Policy: The National Interest v. Moral Abstractions, p. 853-ff)
For these scholars, a nation should probably not do something like provide protection to refugees if such action threatened its national interest, as defined as protecting its power and long-term survival.
Idealists argue that the US is responsible for protecting broader principles. It is important to understand that realists came under attack in the 1980s from their liberal opponents on the grounds that liberalism could not exchange the more peaceful evolution of the international system at the end of the cold war.
The liberal perspective stands in opposition to the realist perspective on international relations. Liberals find their philosophical foundation in the 15th century writings of John Locke and the 16th century writings of Immanual Kant. According to the theorists who applied these philosophical writings to foreign policy, foreign policy should reflect the rights and duties of individuals. These scholars believe that it is potential to “cultivate” a foreign policy “garden” and to have peaceful relations between states where states don’t perpetually act out of self-interest to balance against each others interests. Foreign policy idealists usually endorse at least some of the following tenants:
-Political constraints impact on foreign-policy decision-making. Self-interest of the state does not determine foreign policy outcomes
-Fostering interdependence amongst states and building multilateral institutions can facilitate cooperation rather than self-interest
-Most states are not interested in balance of power politics, but rather on solving problems and avoiding conflict
Specific criticisms of realism include:
-Lack of ability to define the “National Interest.”
-Doesn’t explain problems conflicts that cross the boundaries of nation-states: environmental pollution, refugees.
-Most contemporary problems trade, multinational investment, migration, environmental are more likely to find solution through international cooperation than war.
-Terrorism is an emerging threat that is not directed against particular states.
-Realism does not explain contemporary phenomenon why did Russia allow its empire to break up if states are completely focused on power?
Liberal internationalist argue that we should embrace international laws, conventions, and norms in order to strengthen the multilateral international system. There are many such laws and conventions relevant to refugees, and, hence, a claim that a country should prioritize its obligations to provide a safe haven for refugees over securing its own borders is, fundamentally, grounded in an idealist international political theory.
As we proceed with arguments on this topic, you will see how each of the approaches is grounded in the arguments on one side of this underlying theory.