Refuge & asylum: an obligation rather than beneficence

Wednesday, 22 June 2022 | Savin Bansal


Savin Bansal

Globally, over 80 million people are displaced forcibly to escape violence, conflict, persecution, deprivation and human-rights abuse as of 2020 end. They are now Refugees and asylum-seekers who yearn for protection and dignified existence. The general state of affairs flies in the face of the statute that has since long resolutely settled the right to seek asylum as a fundamental human right.  Owing to dramatic spikes in inequities, disruptive-technologies, political-disorder and vulnerabilities, the risk landscape is becoming complex and protracted leading to the displaced’ figures getting doubled since 2012. These stressors present a critical development challenge to the efforts to end extreme poverty and reduce inequality in the low and middle-income countries. In the long term, the extended exposure begets income subversion, asset wasting, diminishing of growth opportunities and dents lifetime productivity. This in turn instigates intergenerational dire ramifications for health, cognitive ability, psyche, social cohesion, human capital, peace and stability.

Besides, the policy inaction towards carbon-emissions reduction is poised to, not long before, set-off unprecedented mass distress migration of climate-refugees from SIDS (Small-Island-Developing-States) and coastal cities that constitute about 40 per cent of the world’s population just within 100 kilometres of the coastline. Threatened by cascading disasters in the form of rising sea levels, hurricanes, storm surges, coastal land erosion, freshwater-crunch and critical infrastructure damage; the migration displacements are already looming large at numbers never witnessed before. 

Essentially a developing world crisis, every four in five of the displaced are hosted in low and middle-income countries and every two of three refugees hail from just five countries (Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar). Rather than only a humanitarian crisis, this is fundamentally a socio-economic and political disaster. By 2030, up to two-thirds of the global extreme poor will be living in FCV (Fragility-Conflict-Violence) settings, driving 80 per cent of humanitarian needs. The international humanitarian experts and United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have in unequivocal terms condemned divisive and politicised positions, pejorative double standards and callous practices that subvert asylum commitments. But ironically the soaring instances of xenophobic political narratives and increasingly firmed physical and legislative barriers to access asylum in the so-called developed nations (United States and European Union), have continued to erode the rights of people fleeing war, conflict, poverty and disaster-climate risks. 

While the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol guarantees asylum as a right, the reprehensible pushbacks at the borders, forced-expulsions, tactical obfuscations in resettlement and local-integration, persistently flout asylum obligations, endanger lives and ethical integrity. The 2015 Europe-migrant crisis across Aegean-Mediterranean seas, the overdrawn 2017 US-Latin America border standoff and 2021 Belarus-EU impasse serve as disgraceful reminders for the brazen violations, indulged in, as regards the ‘non-Refoulement’ principle and ‘Global Compact on Refugees’. Such policy aberrations run the risk of transgressing the spirit of the international statutes, devalue human life, fuel makeshift squalid-settlements on the fringes, health disasters, regional disharmony, lawlessness, social injustice and savagery across the borders. The systematic and prolonged deviations from the humanitarian precepts breed and engender conditions ripened enough to invoke ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine (R2P 2005).

Further, data gaps constrain the abilities to measure deprivations, fathom injustices and rights violations which, in turn, render such sections invisible to development-planning and progression assessment. The net effect is bereaving millions of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of the rightful relief and rendering them incapacitated to return home on account of information asymmetry. The precarious existence as refugees and IDPs was further worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Statistically, the forcibly displaced people in the world are at an all-time high and so do the humanitarian needs. While the imperative to demonstrate solidarity towards the countries that host the majority of refugees, assumes overarching priority, it doesn’t however discharge the aberrant majors in the global north of undertaking tectonic shifts in policy stance and posture to observe reverence to the rule of law, objectivity and natural justice. It’s high time to affirm and institute reforms central to issues such as adequate reception conditions, expeditious asylum rights determination and integrative assimilation, that enable the victims to rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.

Overall, reconciling to the right to refuge-asylum cannot be shunted or prevaricated. Managing borders, squaring responsibility and respecting human rights are very much compatible. The bottom line is that the victims risked by life-threatening environs don’t deserve the gratuitous procrastination and calculative statecraft.

(The author is an Uttarakhand cadre IAS officer pursuing Masters in Risk, Disaster and Resilience at Institute of Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London on Commonwealth Scholarship. Views expressed are personal)

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