On pathways for admission of Syrian Refugees

A one-day, high-level meeting on global responsibility sharing through pathways for admission of Syrian refugees was held 30 March 2016 in Geneva .

The meeting was bookended by the 4 February 2016 Supporting Syria conference in London, the 23-24 May 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, and the 19 September 2016 Summit Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants in New York.


The focus of the March 30 conference is the need for expanded, multi-year programmes of resettlement and other forms of humanitarian admission, including involving countries that till now have not been involved in such initiatives.

Resettlement is not the only aim. Other such pathways include humanitarian transfer or visas, private sponsorship, medical evacuation, family reunion, academic scholarship, and apprenticeships or labour schemes. The event will also showcase innovative approaches, new partnerships, and successful case studies, and is an opportunity for governments around the world to be part of finding solutions for Syrian refugees.

The meeting will be attended by representatives of some 92 countries, 10 inter- governmental organizations, nine UN agencies and 24 non-government organizations. Speakers will include UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Grandi, together with representatives from key refugee-hosting governments.

Some pledges of additional resettlement and other humanitarian admission places are expected to be announced on Wednesday. However, given today’s complex international context and with Syria’s conflict continuing, additional places will be needed over the coming months and years, in particular to address the needs of the most vulnerable refugees and to relieve pressure on Syria’s neighbours. In line with refugee situations elsewhere, UNHCR estimates that as many as 10 per cent of Syria’s 4.8 million refugees fall into this category, and that well over 450,000 places will be needed before the end of 2018.


On past as prologue [5]

Leon Gordenker, Refugees in International Politics (1987) —

The misery of refugees thus dulls the glitter of unilateral, short-term campaigning by governments. The homeless, persecuted, hungry, confused people who turn up at border posts and distant airports signify the costs of conflict within and among societies and states. They are living monuments to war, disorder, long-term social collapse, government failure, prejudice and sheer malice. They pay directly for the militaristic swaggering of their leaders, for the intolerance of political and religious orthodoxy and for the short-term successes of mindless power-seekers (p. 6).

Even more fundamental limitations were inherent in the new regime as a result of both national policies and the nature of international politics. No government has ever shown itself eager to surrender authority over immigration. Some governments, such as those of the United States and the United Kingdom, have had to deal with immigration policies as leading issues in national political life. The experience with refugees and displaced persons after the Second World War demonstrated the expediency of resettlement as a means of coping with accumulations of refugees. But resettlement means that refugees become immigrants. Granting general rights to refugees or allowing a large number of people to formally become refugees could thus diminish national control over immigration policies. Therefore, governments approached refugee matters with some tentativeness and showed a clear resistance to handing over even minor decisions to an international agency [UNHCR]. As s a result the [Refugee] Convention enables a person outside his own country to enter a claim to a government for asylum but gives him no right to it. The rights of refugees are based in the first instance on protection from being sent into danger or persecution, either in their original homes or in a third country. Thus, the doctrine of non-refoulement to protect refugees may promote the granting of long-term asylum but does not ensure it. Governments acceding to the Convention maintain their authority over immigration and nationality (p. 30; emphasis added).

On past as prologue

As I barrel through a ton of older literature, I’ll be posting quotes that read like they were written today —

From: Alte Grahl-Madsen, Chapter 21: “Identifying the World’s Refugees” (1983), in Peter Macalister-Smith and Gudmundur Alfredsson (eds.), The Land Beyond: Collected Essays on Refugee Law and Policy by Alte Grahl-Madsen (2001), p. 259.

Stemming the Tide

It is part of the tragedy of our times that several states by various methods are seeking to prevent or at least to discourage refugees from reaching their shores to seek sanctuary. Military security zones may be established along frontiers and coastlines, making penetration hazardous, to say the least; or vessels carrying would-be refugees may be intercepted at sea and ordered to return with their human cargo. Visa exemption agreements between certain states may be abrogated, simply in order to prevent an uncontrollable inflow of asylum seekers by air, sea or land.

Just as there may be collective decisions of eligibility, some governments have of late adopted policies that virtually amount to collective non-eligibility for members of certain ethnic and other groups, which means that members of these groups may be returned to their homeland without ado, immediately upon arrival. Others may be returned to a country through which they have passed en route, on the pretext that that country is their country of first asylum, very likely adding to the number of refugees in orbit.

In order to reduce further the pull factor, or in other words to make refugee life as unattractive as possible, asylum seekers may be denied the right to work and may be restricted in their movements, even confined to a camp. There has also emerged the concept of humane deterrent, the idea being to make living conditions in camps as miserable as possible so as to deter others from considering flight as a viable alternative to there fear, anguish, and misery at home.

In May 1979 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by UNHCR and the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam concerning the “ordinary departure” of persons from Vietnam, the purpose being to eliminate at least one “push factor”.

The United Nations has now initiated an attempt to find ways and means to avert future flows of refugees. It is not intended to abridge the human right to leave any country, including one’s own. Instead, the General Assembly of the United Nations has turned its attention to the root causes of refugee problems, condemning “all policies and practices of oppressive regimes as well as aggression, alien domination and foreign occupation, which are primarily responsible for the massive flows of refugees throughout the world and which results in inhuman suffering.”

If anything shall result from this initiative, action will be necessary on many factors, ranging from penetrating studies of the limits of international law to practical and economic measures that can help states to solve their internal problems without recourse to oppressive policies of the kind that may cause mass flows of refugees.

Do we glimpse the contours of a brave new world?

footnotes removed. Originally published as “Identifying the World’s Refugees” in The Global Refugee Problem: US and World Response, Gilburt D. Loescher and John A. Scanlan (eds.), The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 467 (1983) 11-23.

On emergency

Held on 5 February, the Foreign Policy program at Brookings hosted the American Academy in Berlin for the 2016 Richard C. Holbrooke Forum focusing on the global refugee crisis. I finally got around to watching the interesting exchange between Leon Wieseltier, Michael Ignatieff, and Martin Indyk.

Worth watching for Wieseltier’s brief discussion about emergency; of his current research on the 1939 Evian conference; and, debates about security, nation states and refugees, cosmopolitanism vs. communitarianism, and universalism vs. particularism.

See also: Lawfare podcast #158 with Leon Wieseltier for a discussion of the absorptive capacities of states

On implementing EU-Turkey agreement

On “Resettlement Plus”

UNHCR just published their supplemental appeal, Strengthening refugee resettlement and other pathways to admission and solutions: Global Strategy 2016.

From page 4, UNCHR Strategy,

UNHCR’s response to this unprecedented level of requests for referrals of refugees for resettlement and other forms of admission centers on:

  1. The immediate scale up of capacity for resettlement processing, including through the deployment of additional resettlement, registration and community-based protection staff; and
  2. Strengthening guidelines and overall operational capacity for the long-term provisions of increased referrals for resettlement and other pathways to admission and solutions, including facilitation of new programmes.