Are we best serving some of the world's most desperate people?by David Goodhart, Cathryn Costello / October 15, 2015 / Leave a comment
Is our definition of "refugee" too wide?
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.
Not all will come, but by giving up on selecting the most vulnerable we have created a free for all with the most resourceful able to force their way in. We may feel sorry for Syrian doctors and engineers but in a world in which a child dies every minute from malaria they do not have first call on our generosity: their lives are not endangered in camps and they are the people Syria needs when the conflict ends.
One million people a year seems nothing for a continent of 500m, but the cumulative effect, coming on top of large scale legal immigration, could transform our societies in a few decades;…