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Lecture 4

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Lecture 4 - Reactive Migration & Displacement Refugees, Asylum Seekers
and the Securitization of Borders
The convention that was signed in 1951 has become the touchstone or benchmark of
international refugee law ! very important document when talking about refugees – it’s
where the category began and to this day it’s a document that we rely on to navigate
international refugee law
Background: In 1951 there were still many refugees at large across the European
continent, they were mostly living in makeshift displaced persons camps – many people
had not yet returned to their country of origin or could not return, and were living in
rather transient kinds of places
In light of that situation, and in response to the general atrocities of WWII, delegates of
26 countries came together in Geneva Switzerland in July 1951 in order to come up with
a “binding international standard for the treatment of refugees and the obligations of the
countries toward them
The political/social background of the category of refugee and the UN convention on the
status of refugees is directly connected to the atrocities of ww2 and the holocaust, and the
sudden increasing of all these people scattered across the European continent, many of
who were unable to return to their countries of origin
There were some earlier attempts pre WW2 by the international community to establish
refugee organizations and approve refugee conventions of this kind, legal protection and
assistance for refugees was still at a rather superficial level in the immediate years
following ww2

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Connected to this convention is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, established
one year prior to the convention in 1950 and it came to be considered the guardian of the
This decision was influenced by the 1948 universal declaration of human rights, which
was also drafted in a direct response to the atrocities of ww2
The guiding principle of the 1951 UN refugee convention is legal protection – this means
that “the responsibility to protect is rounded in the principle that sovereign states have
the primary obligation to protect their citizens against harm but when states are
unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility falls to the international community” –
the UN being the most important international lobby that administers that
This raises some problems and difficult questions to answer:
Questions from students: 1. Where does the money come to take in all sorts of refugees?
Certain countries might be funding this organization– there are governments that pour
quite a bit of money to keep this organization going– but then you end up with
ideological tension or political tension between certain political interests, so while the
U.S is giving money to this organization, what happens when this organization wants to
protect people coming from a certain country that are at odds with U.S foreign policies,
such as Cuba – 2. How do you define well-founded fear and persecution? 3. How does a
refugee prove their situation? In certain instances, the reasonability is on the individual
(the asylum seeker) to prove that he or she is actually being persecuted and often times
there’s a question of evidence: how does he or she prove that and often times the
immigration refugee boards or whoever is in charge in the country of reception are not
necessarily going to believe them or take their story on face value – that’s kind of
obvious. 4. How do we actually enforce this? How do you prove that there’s a lack of
protection on behalf of the state? Sometimes it’s obvious if it’s war
Questions by prof: 1. At what point does the international community determine that a
given state has failed to exercise its obligation to protect and that international
intervention is warranted – we’ve seen that with Syria, Bosnia, Yugoslavia. 2. At what
point did the international committee feel that this is the moment they have to intervene?
3. What threshold in terms of lose of life, ethnic cleansing or other harms demand
protection must be reached before international military interventions to justify it –
military intervention is often a little bit of a tangent but it’s the same idea – 4. When is
the situation bad enough that the international committee is called upon to intervene?
Reaction paper question: “Should the UN intervene despite a state sovereignty and if so
when and how?”
Sovereignty means that the government is in charge of stuff, that’s where all this
authority lies, and all of a sudden they have this external body that is perhaps stepping on
the toes of that sovereign state
The major goal of guided principle of legal protection and the convention of Geneva, is
that uprooted people can eventually be returned to their homes of origin voluntarily -
voluntary repatriation - once situation back home has calmed down and things are
allegedly safe, the ultimate goal is that these people can be sent back to where they come
How do you define and who gets to define at what point the situation is safe? And is it
the same across the board for all members of that society? Because certain or all societies

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will have populations that are more marginalized or discriminated against than others and
perhaps return for them is more dangerous than for other individuals
What happens when someone’s country no longer exists or the borders are changed?
Some people go stateless
In Germany in the late 90s, Germany took in many refugees from Kosovo when there
was a war there – amongst these refugees were people of Roma minority – they lived
there for many years and as refugees they had some varying degrees of status in the
In 2008, the chancellor following the declared independence of Kosovo signed a
repatriation agreement with the new government in Kosovo, stating that now that Kosovo
exists as an independent nation state you can send everyone back because there’s no more
That was not the case for Roma minority – however, because it was determined that
Kosovo is now a sovereign nation state, the Roma minority got missed and had large
scale deportation, in fact it is forced deportation because these Roma people didn’t want
to return to Kosovo after living in Germany; the situation for them is not anywhere near
safe, even though it’s now a sovereign nation, because they’re not considered citizens –
this is an example where the country of origin may become safer for some but we need to
think about the more marginalized people in that society
There is no time limit for being a refugee; it’s about when the country becomes safe
again. Who defines if the situation is safe?
Non-refoulement – it’s French, means to “push” or “force back” – according to 1951
convention, there’s a guarantee that a refugee should not be returned to their country if he
or she faces serious threats to their life or their freedom
However, not all countries abide by this – example: in 1994, Zaire returned 500 000
Rwandan refugees to Rwanda before the country had reached the safe level of political
stability following genocide in that same year – there are documented cases where non-
refoulement was ignored
Who was not covered by the convention: persons who have crimes against peace, a war
crime, crimes against humanity, a serious non-political crime outside their country of
Question: can you claim refugee status if you’re coming from a country that is considered
by the international committee as safe? At just the beginning of 2013, Kenney published
a list of safe countries – most of EU countries are on there, basically says that if you have
someone coming from one of these countries on the list they’re going to be expedited
through the process, pushed through the whole process where they’re being assessed on
whether or not they can claim asylum in the country – the assumption is that if you come
from a country that’s democratic, why would they be in danger of any kind? There are
certain populations that are more vulnerable than others - you can think of homosexuals,
or Roma in Hungary – Kenney’s safe country list was spearheaded by his concern about
Roma flooding the gates in Canada and coming here to cheat the system when in fact
major international human rights organizations have documented all sorts of dangerous
and racist and fatal attacks taking place against the Roma community in Hungary – for
the people coming here seeking asylum, their whole case is compromised because of the
safe country list
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