On a crisis of values

From Volker Türk’s remarks at the 133rd Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union General Debate —

Yet the single-most important challenge to the protection of refugees, as well as to reaping the development potential of migration more broadly comes from populist politics and uninformed public debates. They engender a climate of fear. In some countries there has been a proliferation of xenophobic and Islamophobic narratives, hate speech, fear-mongering, and inflammatory statements both at the political and civil society levels. In some instances this has even led to arson or other violent attacks directed against refugees as well as migrants.

We have also noted with concern that the terms “refugee” and “migrant” have in many instances been used interchangeably in the media and public discourse. The two terms have different meanings, and conflating them has serious consequences for the lives and safety of refugees. Both migrants and refugees are protected under international human rights law, but the failure to mention refugees specifically is a failure to recognise their unique predicament  their lack of national protection, the risks they face should they return to their home countries, and our obligations to protect them under a legal framework crafted specifically for them. This can undermine public support for the institution of asylum at a time when more refugees need such protection than ever before.

Preserving the institution of asylum is critical. Asylum is literally life-saving, and has ensured the survival of millions of people for decades. This is not to say that the problems and challenges of today’s large-scale mixed migration movements are not real, particularly in relation to adequate shelter, reception, security concerns, as well as burden- and responsibility-sharing. However, the situation is manageable and needs to be addressed in a manner that is consistent with obligations under international law to protect asylum-seekers and refugees.

All of this suggests that the more fundamental crisis that we are facing today is perhaps one of values the same values that we had sworn never to forget after the atrocities of the Second World War and that are embodied in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


On asylum-seekers in Germany

Heather Horn in The Atlantic interviewed Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute and discussed the difference between refugees and asylum-seekers —

There’s no clear parallel for this sort of influx in the United States. On paper, the U.S. is a giant in the refugee-acceptance business, taking in more refugees than every other country in the world combined, according to Kathleen Newland, a senior fellow and co-founder of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute. But there’s a difference, she pointed out, between the refugees the United States resettles and the asylum-seekers arriving in Germany. In the former case, individuals are carefully vetted outside the destination country and only then resettled in that country. In the latter, people are flowing over the border—effectively presenting themselves on the ground—and then asking for state protection.

“I think [the distinction is] not widely appreciated,” said Newland. “When Germany says, ‘We’ll get 800,000 people this year,’ these are not people Germany has selected or invited in any way. These people are just turning up.” In contrast, those accepted by the United States have first been chosen on grounds of particular vulnerability or special ties to the U.S., and then additionally “have been through the most lengthy, exhaustive, laborious security screening that you can imagine,” according to Newland. “It usually takes one to two years for someone to get through that process once they’ve been referred for resettlement.” Germany, she added, is confronting a tremendous immediate challenge to provide these asylum-seekers with food, housing, and “weather-appropriate clothing.”

On safe passage, asylum and R2P

Alex J. Bellamy over at IPI’s Global Observatory writes about safe passage and asylum on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the international community’s adoption of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle —

The relationship between R2P and the protection of refugees was understood from the outset. Indeed, R2P itself grew out of earlier attempts to recast sovereignty in order to improve the protection of displaced populations. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly argued that full implementation of international refugee law is among the steps required to fulfill R2P.

In 2008, Legal scholar Brian Barbour and the UN High Commission on Refugees’ (UNHCR) Brian Gorlick argued that “there may be no easier way for the international community to meet its responsibility to protect than by providing asylum and other international protection on adequate terms.”  They were right to do so. The granting of safe passage and asylum is without doubt one of the most effective, if not the most effective, ways of directly protecting people from atrocity crimes.

What is entailed here is simply the full implementation of the 1951 Convention on the Protection of Refugees and subsequent 1967 Protocol through the existing mechanisms, including UNHCR, already established to achieve that goal. Simply put “asylum”—a term not often associated with R2P—as others have argued, ought to be a key element, of the principle’s repertoire of responses to atrocity crimes. That is why, for example, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on R2P, Jennifer Welsh, has pointed out that Jordan is among the few countries that can claim to have fulfilled their responsibility to protect by accommodating Syrian refugees.