Are we best serving some of the world's most desperate people?by David Goodhart, Cathryn Costello / October 15, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
David Goodhart—Prospect’s editor at large
Europe’s refugee crisis is also a crisis of moral and political over-reach. Over the past few decades the grounds for seeking refuge in Europe have been ever widened by well-intentioned lawyers with only a distant connection to democratic politics. Until now it was of little consequence because, despite spikes such as the 1990s Balkan wars, few people were able to reach Europe to claim that right to protection.
With the collapse of parts of Europe’s external border the trickle could become an annual flood of one million or more. Unless we restore the borders, narrow the definition of refugee and insist that people apply outside Europe, the flood will become permanent. The generous impulse of Europeans to help the persecuted could be easily realised when there were discreet crises involving finite numbers; East African Asians, Somalis, Bosnians, for example. But now, thanks to long-running conflicts and new communications and transport infrastructure, many more can and want to come. Our refugee laws now signal a greater openness than we are prepared to honour.
The 1951 Refugee Convention giving refugee status to those with “well founded fear of persecution” could now in principle be used by hundreds of millions. Protection now extends to anyone suffering “serious harm… as a result of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict.” That means everyone living in a conflict zone: another few hundred million.