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).

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On past as prologue [4]

Jean-Pierre Hocke, “Beyond Humanitarianism: The Need for Political Will to Resolve Today’s Refugee Problem,” p. 40-1, in G. Loescher and L. Monahan (eds.), Refugees in International Relations (1989).

I am particularly concerned about the growing negative public opinion in the west vis-a-vis refugees and asylum-seekers from the Third World. Many governments in the West have responded to the recent influxes of refugees by adopting restrictive practices, a reaction that has tended to prove contagious. Humanitarian principles, so carefully nurtured in the West over the past few decades, are under threat. Basic standards of refugee protection are being lowered. Refugees are being used as political tools in domestic party politics. In this process the basic human values which served as the reference point for all humanitarian activities are being devalued. This erosion of values must be checked, and I am sure it can be done, provided states exercise their political judgement and will to do so, bearing in mind the immeasurably serious consequences of acting otherwise.

Given both the size and the complexity of the world refugee problem, it is time that the international community took a fresh look at the legal instruments available, and identified a political means to address the problem more effectively.

On visiting the neighbors

Long time neighbor, first time visitor: I finally got to take a tour of the US Embassy today (..unsurprisingly, zero cameras or phones allowed) just before giving a briefing on refugee issues to D.C. and Oslo staff. The building is shaped like a triangle — stairwells included!

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 China hosting refugees

Over at Foreign Policy, Liang Pan just posted a great overview on why China isn’t hosting Syrian refugees

China almost certainly will not adopt a refugee resettlement plan that will help relieve the heavy burden faced by the other developing countries in the region currently overwhelmed by the influx. China lacks the institutions conducive to supporting immigration on a mass scale. Although it ratified the UN’s Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1982, the country still lacks related national institutions. It was only in 2012 that China adopted a revised Entry-Exit Administration Law that allows public security authorities to issue identity certificates to refugees and refugee status applicants. According to an August 2015 UNHCR fact sheet, the Chinese government does not provide assistance to refugees in China.

Then there’s the Chinese “green card,” which provides only a “narrow path to residency,” according to a memo by Melissa Lefkowitz, a program officer at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at the New York University School of Law. China’s official statistics show that, as of 2013, only 7,300 among 600,000-plus foreigners living in China had permanent residence. (In 2013 alone, almost a million people became permanent residents in the United States.) Naturalization is extremely rare.

Issues of political ideology, public support, religion, economics and culture are discussed further in the piece. [Links in original text]

On Erna speaking about refugees, 2001

The perks of doing archival research is that you occasionally come across some gems:

Status of Refugees – a speech by Erna Solberg, (then) Minister of local Government and Regional Development, at the Ministerial meeting of states parties to the convention relating to the status of refugees on 12 December 2001, Geneva:

This 50th anniversary provides an excellent opportunity to assess the quality of the international regime for the protection of refugees. I agree with UNHCR that in the course of these 50 years the 1951 Convention has proved its relevance, effectiveness and flexibility, despite the ever-changing environment. The Convention will, however, only be an efficient tool as long as the states parties are fully committed to its implementation. I am happy to see that so many colleagues from other countries have reaffirmed their commitments in this regard. […]

Refugee protection predates and goes beyond the 1951 Convention. In 1921 Fridtjof Nansen was appointed as the League of Nations’ first High Commissioner for Refugees. One of Nansen’s main objectives was to help refugees to stand on their own feet as soon as their essential needs had been met. The solutions were the same as those we use today: repatriation, resettlement and local integration. Fridtjof Nansen undoubtedly contributed to setting the standard for future action on behalf of refugees and paved the way for the 1951 Convention.

The preamble to the 1951 Convention notes that the granting of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries and that a satisfactory solution cannot be achieved without international cooperation. It does not, however, specify how such cooperation should be brought about. Therefore, it is essential that states are willing to engage in such cooperation and that UNHCR provides the necessary coordination. […]

I am pleased to see the progress being made in the global consultations on international protection. In addition to highlighting questions of interpretation relating to the Convention, the consultations have focused on protection challenges that are not clearly covered by the Convention. How to deal with mass outflow situations has been one central issue. I have noted UNHCR ‘s assurances that the Convention is sufficiently flexible to be applied effectively even in situations of large-scale influxes. I’ll bear that in mind. Nonetheless, I believe that large-scale influxes call for practical national tools, stich as temporary protection schemes. The challenge is to make them fully compatible with international protection standards.