Refugee law has an infamous built-in dichotomy. Its powerful non-refoulement principle means refugees shall not be returned to their home countries or to places where they would be at risk of being returned home. Yet, refugee law does not oblige securing safe direct access from a refugee’s country of origin or transit to a state of asylum. The fragmented response to the large-scale displacement from Syria violently demonstrates that dissonance. Like in any refugee crisis, neighboring regions host the bulk of IDPs and refugees from Syria, which has painful consequences for the quality of protection offered.
How multilateral efforts – beyond the EU’s response to the current crisis – will fill the relative normative vacuum on access to asylum is possibly the single most important issue for the future of refugee protection. In this post, I want to share some thoughts on some of the parameters that are at stake or will determine the feasibility of a multilateral responsibility sharing response.
First, refugees are not passive players in the systemic conditions and the personal circumstances they face, but have – if limited, given the lack of migration channels – leeway to make choices. If they can, they will move to places where they find effective protection, including social and economic integration. Ignoring agency will make any responsibility sharing mechanism unpopular to those whom it is meant to benefit.
Second, while refugee law does not include strong norms on responsibility, policy initiatives to foster responsibility should not trade away compliance with refugee law. The refugee law regime – based on the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees – has proved remarkably stable over the past sixty years, not least because it subtly balances human rights obligations and other state interest. It has also seen considerable evolution by human rights law as interpretative guidance, and has been complemented by non-return obligations under human rights law. Read the rest of this entry…