Argument: RefugeesSending Refugees Back Makes the World More Dangerous

Published 2 December 2019

The headline-grabbing assertions that the world is witnessing an unprecedented refugee crisis are both misleading and dangerous, Stephanie Schwartz writes in Foreign Policy. The number of refugees worldwide has nearly doubled in the past decade, she says,  but if there is a crisis today, it is one of refugee return, which contributes to the perpetuation of conflict and instability in the country or region of origin.

The headline-grabbing assertions that the world is witnessing an unprecedented refugee crisis are both misleading and dangerous, Stephanie Schwartz writes in Foreign Policy. Thenumber of refugees worldwide has nearly doubled in the past decade, she says,  but if there is a crisis today, it is one of refugee return.

Despite the fact that non-refoulement—the prohibition against sending asylum-seekers back to a country where their life or liberty is endangered—is considered one of the strongest norms in international law, governments across the world are going to great lengths to send refugees back. Some, such as the United States, are blatantly flouting non-refoulement with plans to send Central American asylum-seekers directly back into the violence they are fleeing.

Many countries are going to extremes to coerce refugees to return, so it would be easy to assume that sending refugees back to their countries of origin is the key to solving the problem of mass displacement.

My research on migration between Burundi and Tanzania after Burundi’s 1993-2005 civil war  demonstrates how refugee repatriation can incite violence in countries of origin and lead to repeat migration.” Schwartz writes.

If refugee repatriation is not the solution, then what is? The alternative durable solutions set out in existing international frameworks are resettlement and local integration, but both options have become increasingly difficult for politicians to implement as more voters express their dissatisfaction with immigration and globalization.

Schwartz concludes:

If world leaders are serious about finding solutions to the rising levels of forced displacement, rather than simply playing to nativist demands and calling for refugees to be sent back, they must consider options that break out of the straitjacket that is the “repatriate, naturalize, or resettle” paradigm.

Allowing refugees to take advantage of pathways normally reserved for labor migrants is difficult—both for the politicians proposing to let more people in and for the maintenance of existing refugee protections…. It would be far more effective to use that same system to provide refugees with much-needed protection—and it is possible. But to do so, national leaders must first marshal the political will to undertake real—and at times risky—reforms.

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