On webinars: A crisis of refugee protection?

Dr Cathryn Costello and Prof Guy Goodwin-Gil hosted a webinar, ‘Is there a refugee crisis in Europe, or a crisis of lack of refugee protection?‘, on 12.11.15 for OxHRH.

The webinar is archived here; also find a list of further readings.

(the 1956 Hungarian crisis is specifically addressed starting at 33:00; also, they field a fascinating question about the analytical use of norms before the recording ends)


On panel discussions: The Migrant and Refugee Crisis @ Oxford Martin School

Interesting set up, really interesting result: The Oxford Martin School hosted a panel to discuss the migrant and refugee crisis + responses and solutions.

In her six minutes to address the panel, Bridget Anderson brought up issues around victimhood, agency and morals [@35:20] —

On September the 7th in response to the so-called ‘refugee crisis in Europe ‘, David Cameron announced the extension of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Protections scheme to operate alongside the regular asylum claim system. The UK won’t accept for resettlement people who have reached Europe or its borders, but it will accept 4000 people a year from the refugee camps bordering Syria. People who are identified as being victims of sexual violence, the elderly, the disabled, orphaned children, and so on.

So this is what a genuine refugee looks like: living in a camp, helpless, a broken body, a broken mind, a broken heart, and no control over their lives. But one of the challenges of the refugee crisis – let’s call it that for now, though I appreciate what Julien [Brachet] has said – lies in the refusal to be that deserving refugee who waits to be rescued from the camp. People are making choices to move, albeit within very constrained limitations. The reassertion of vulnerability as a sign of deservingness equates refugee with a very particular kind of victimhood that making decisions delegitimizes people’s status as victims, and therefore as a refugee. Choosing to move from Turkey, Jordan, or Lebanon, especially if you can afford to pay people to help you move suggests that you’re not somehow genuinely in need. Now of course, you all know that in practice refugees are not only helpless victims, but the broader truth is that .this determined.. focus on those who are believed to be the so-called ‘most vulnerable’ reveals that .all of our. models inevitably exclude as they include. The most vulnerable would in all likelihood not include the family of Aylan Kurdi. Even if we widen criteria to include all Syrians, we exclude all people from Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Iraq. If we widen inclusion to encompass all refugees, we exclude those attempting to cross the Mediterranean in rickety boats in order to build more sustainable lives. And this is a profound challenge to European claims to respect the moral equality of persons because we are living in a world of increasingly grotesque inequality both in terms of security and economic opportunity.

We don’t have to only think about the horrors of Syria and Iraq. Research by the World Bank has demonstrated that while in the 19th century, what determined your place in the noble hierarchy of income was basically whether you were a worker or a boss, a master or a servant. And today, this is much less important than in the state in which you live. And lets not forget that this inequality is not a natural state of affairs but has historical roots, both recent – and we heard about the disasterous foreign policy, but also as Colin [Bundy] talked about, colonialism and imperialism. Indeed, perhaps, rather than a refugee crisis confronting Europe, what we are seeing is a European crisis confronting refugees. Like the apocryphal story that  the Haitian slave revolution greeted the repressive French army by singing La Marseillaise, so some of the people walking along the motorways of Hungary and Austria are carrying the European flag. ‘We share your respect for justice, freedom, and human rights, and here we are, we belong.’

This is where the potential power of where the refugees are welcome lies. Probably like many people in this room, I went to the demonstration in Oxford that was actually just outside this very building. It was an expression of humanitarian impulse, but more than that, it was an assertion that we, the residents of Oxford in this case, but also other cities, have the moral authority to include. It shifts the ‘we’. ‘You’ might not welcome refugees, but we do. In this, it is a welcome contrast of the rejection of asylum-seekers and the demonization of non-citizens that has marked both the British and the European scene for many years. But who is the refugee we are welcoming – and to pick up on something that Cathryn [Costello] has said – does this refugee have to be a person who has the victim in premature or is it someone that we, the residents, has a genuine claim? The two are not necessarily the same. If we are welcoming the person on the road in Austria or risking the Channel tunnel in Calais, the emotional impulse must engage with the bureaucratic and legal process and move from the terrain from the moral to the political. For if refugees really are welcome, then something must be done at the European level about the Dublin system. But also at the national level. In Britain, each refugee welcomed counts against the net migration target, which is the critical measure of the government’s immigration policy’s success or failure. and if refugees really are welcome, there are plenty already in the UK and Oxford who are destitute and homeless. For we live in a country that has declared a hostile environment for unwanted migrants, including people who have been refused asylum but who cannot be returned because, despite the rejection of their asylum claims, it is acknowledged that their country of citizenship is too dangerous.

Furthermore, every refugee welcomed needs a place to live. Unfortunately, in the UK, homelessness and hunger are not confined to refugees. If the environment is to be truly welcoming for refugees, it is critical that they are not positioned as competitors for scarce resources – that is, welcoming refugees cannot be treated as an isolated social issue, and this makes it intensely political. ‘Refugees are welcome’ is indeed a very bold statement.

On meetings: Migration Across the Mediterranean

On 30 October 2015, I attended the Migration across the Mediterranean: Challenges and Solutions meeting hosted at Institutt for samfunnsforskning.

The timing of the meeting was spot on: halfway through the budget addendum went public, relating specifically to the discussions of the Ministries represented. Also always interesting to hear discussions of more the technical issues (how to know who crosses borders, when? what actually happens when someone is picked up on a boat in the Mediterranean? what do is meant by “strategic use” of resettlement?) that tend to get blurred in more casual reporting.

On lynx cats

Sad to say, the lectures I used to coordinate at RC never got this much press. With reporting by David Francis at Foreign Policy, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia discusses the future of the death penalty in the US —

In his historic address to Congress Thursday, Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic church, called for the United States to end the death penalty. If Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is correct, the pontiff may soon get his wish.

Speaking at Rhodes College in Memphis Tuesday night, Scalia, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan and is considered one of the more conservative justices on the court, said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if his fellow justices ruled executions by the criminal justice system unconstitutional. He added that he personally believes executions are legal if the person who is to be put to death received a fair trial.

Scalia based his prediction on simple math: He believes death penalty opponents on the nation’s highest court will soon have the five votes necessary to overrule the four other justices, who would be willing to preserve the system.

Kudos on hosting a news-worthy event, y’all!

On meetings: Mediterranean migration crisis + EU

On 4 September 2015, I attended the NUPI seminar The Mediterranean migration crisis and the role of the EU. Ferruccio Pastore, director of FIERI, gave the central presentation, discussing the roots of the current migration crisis and exploring potential scenarios and response strategies. The video of his talk is worth watching for his discussion of the domino effect of internal EU borders.

22.09.15 update: Pastore’s policy brief, The Next Big European Project

On summer school

From 29 June to 3 July, I attended the University of Essex’s Human Rights Centre’s five day summer school on Human Rights Research Methods.


From their description of program learning outcomes,

All sessions will address research design, methodology and impact and will draw heavily on examples and case-studies. The programme also includes dedicated sessions on particular projects to develop the themes of research design, methodology and impact in greater depth. The summer school will be interactive, affording students many opportunities to apply the theory they have learned, including through dedicated sessions in which students will be given a problem ahead of the class and asked to prepare the research questions, methodology and impact strategy. Students will have the opportunity to receive feedback on existing research plans in one-on-one clinics throughout the school.

In taking this course, students will:

  • have a strong understanding of the key methods used in human rights research and the way in which they can be used on their own or in combination (mixed methods);
  • learn to design research projects with a strong methodology, including for grant applications and to have optimal impact on policy and in practice;
  • have a strong understanding of how to ensure that the research meets ethical standards including in NGOs without ethics committees;
  • gain a strong appreciation of qualitative interviewing techniques including issues involved with interviewing victims and affected communities and carrying out research on sensitive human rights topics;
  • learn how to interpret data gained through interviews;
  • become ‘literate’ in carrying out quantitative research and collecting, processing and using data;
  • understand how to do research in different countries and researching in closed and challenging societies;
  • how to design and carry out comparative country research; and
  • how to measure the impact of policies and practices based on human rights.

Crazy intense experience; crazy worth it. Bonus learning outcome: Dr. Todd Landman is a magician.