FORUM - Virtual Citizenship for refugees: A Proposal




barry, christian
Gerrans, Philip

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There are now more than 60 million displaced people in the world. Of these nearly 20 million are refugees or asylum seekers, whose prospects are governed by the United Nations Convention on Refugees of 1951, designed in the aftermath of WWII to protect people unable to return to their country of origin. Refugees are distinguished from other groups of people, such as so-called economic migrants, who seek entry to another state and refugee status is determined by an investigative process—it is not an assumed status of people seeking asylum. Most arguments about refugees start from humanitarian premises. Advocates for refugees appeal to the moral obligation to protect the rights or welfare of desperately needy people who are fleeing persecution. Most discussions of refugees end in dismay and frustration, observing how humanitarian imperatives seem to weigh so little in the deliberations of states that ultimately determine policies towards refugees. Indeed, as Matthew Gibney has noted, "A kind of schizophrenia seems to pervade Western responses to asylum seekers and refugees; great importance is attached to the principle of asylum but enormous efforts are made to ensure that refugees (and others with less pressing claims) never reach the territory of the state where they could receive its protection."1 We take it for granted that politicians will continue to discount the humanitarian imperative of addressing the needs of refugees relative to the interests of their political constituencies. States will continue to guard jealously their sovereignty, so they are unlikely to create a new and improved United Nations Convention on Refugees, or support the emergence of a well-functioning global authority that binds states to take a fair share of refugees. Moreover, instances of individual states voluntarily absorbing large number of refugees, as Germany did in 2016, will remain few and far between. Are there feasible ways to improve the treatment of refugees? We shall argue that there are: progress is indeed possible. The schizophrenia that Gibney refers to stems in large measure, we argue, from perverse incentives that states face under the current system. There is scope for reforms that could benefit refugees and states that are signatory to the Convention. These reforms would ensure more efficient use of the resources provided by states to address the plight of refugees. These reforms could therefore address the plight of refugees more consistently and effectively, without requiring substantial additional sacrifices by states.







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