States' Interests and Migrant Rights: A Legal Dilemma?

By Stephanie Fitzgerald
Interstate - Journal of International Affairs
2012, Vol. 2011/2012 No. 2 | pg. 3/3 |

Cooperation Regarding Migration

Despite the above illustrations of a lack of cooperation amongst States, there are many examples of a genuine intention to cooperate in matters of migration. An example of this can be seen with the thousands of recognised refugees who fled from Bhutan to Nepal in the 1990s, who were then resettled in eight different countries.196

A further example would be the Spanish trawler that rescued 51 migrants in distress at Sea between the Maltese and Libyan search and rescue zones. A burden sharing agreement developed allowing the disembarkation in a few States, but the resettlement of the rescued in several other countries.197 There are also the developments of arrangements between the States of origin, transit and destination, which use cooperation tactics to inform citizens of the illegalities of migrant smuggling and offering other forms of coming forward as refugees, as seen in the Vietnam and Laos Comprehensive Plan of Action to protect refugees’ rights, whilst discouraging irregular migration.198

Recent activities also show hope for international cooperation with the thousands of people fleeing Libya this year, a State that has for many years ‘been a transit and destination country for thousands of refugees and people otherwise in need of international protection from third countries’.199 Many are now leaving Libya and seeking refuge in States such as, ‘Egypt and Tunisia, but there are also departures by land, air and increasingly by sea to other countries’.200 Libya is a place of violence, where excessive force is being used towards its civilians, ‘specifically targeted towards the large groups of foreigners in the country, including refugees and asylum-seekers’.201 The UN has expressed its gratitude towards countries like Egypt who have pledged “to allow entry to Libyan nationals”. This shows that States, regardless of the lack of legal obligation to share the burden of refugee protection, are looking at their duty as a member in the international community to assist its neighbour when an international crisis arises. A further example of burden sharing tactics can be seen in the Kosovo conflict, where various States helped Macedonia, offering, ‘economic assistance and a programme to share refugees’, the US initially suggesting a figure around 20,000.202 The support offered suggests that the idea of burden sharing is very much present in the international arena for refugee protection.

Conclusion

The various causes of migration have had a damaging effect on the principle of cooperation amongst the international community, with regards to the protection given to asylum seekers and refugees. With State internal conflicts and human rights abuse, many people flee their country of origin in search for protection. This protection, which has been guaranteed by international instruments, is being jeopardised by State interpretation of the concept of burden sharing within the cooperative arena. Many geographically disadvantaged States suffer with mass inflows of migration and refugees have to remain with the first State where asylum was claimed, usually the suffering States. This has caused many debates among States, as those who suffer are struggling with security, social and economic problems. The States who suffer to a great extent in respect of refugee inflows, have appealed to neighbouring States to take their fair share in the burden of migration. Neighbouring States have great reservations over the issue, especially with regards to their own security matters. This has become a more prominent refusal ground, due to recent terrorist attacks and the fear for safety of nationals. It thus becomes a question of sovereignty over border control and security systems or assistance to fellow States.

There are three recognisable ways to share the burden: financial contribution to those in need, the redistribution of migrants amongst States, and a final proposal is the creation of a common asylum policy. The financial aid given to States with regards to emergency immigration flows takes the form of Refugee Funds, contributed to by the international community. When concerning the distribution of migrants as a solution there has been great reluctance to contribute. Many States have turned this idea of sharing the burden into a shifting exercise which expels them of duty. Although in certain cases the shifting of the asylum burden is a method of sharing the burden, States have taken the idea too far, jeopardising asylum seekers rights. The persistence of States to rid themselves of duty towards asylum seekers can be seen in their agreements with States, who are not obliged to abide by various fundamental legal conventions regarding refugee rights, as well as basic human rights.

The international community, however, does seem to recognise that at times of emergency neighbouring States need to assist those suffering with the burden of migration. Although only when the suffering State refuses to accept any more refugees, will the other States share the burden of the mass influx, putting the refugees’ rights at risk. The States suffering a constant inflow of refugees, due to their geographical position, are calling this inequitable burden an emergency. However, with regards to the above, that State would have to refuse protection to the refugees before the international community would help relieve the burden.

Burden sharing is only present in the preamble of the Refugee Convention, having no legally binding effect, yet its presence within other international instruments suggests it is an accepted practice within international law. Regardless of its legal nature, the fact that it is part of international practice for refugee emergencies suggests that it has in fact become a general practice of States. If this is the case then burden sharing may well become part of customary international law. However, if not legally binding then there may be a moral obligation to assist.

The conflicts the asylum seekers are fleeing from are usually within States where intervention has taken place by westernised countries, who have contributed in some way towards the conflict. Where such situations occur, it is felt there is a moral duty to ensure protection for those refugees by the States involved. However, a moral duty also arises when States require international assistance, due to the code laid down by the UN Charter, conferring on states an obligation to cooperate with each other. If there is no moral or legal duty, the concept of burden sharing should still be the solution to the emergency that is migration. This can further be achieved by the creation of an annual quota of refugees States are willing to accept; as well as a common asylum policy.

A definite figure stating the amount of refugees a country would be willing to accept annually would hopefully help alleviate the migration burden on States who are finding it difficult to respond to the needs of the migrants. For the international obligation of cooperation to take full effect there must be a fair share of refugees distributed among each of the States. The second proposal is that the international community needs to come together to create a convention including protection for refugees as well as asylum seekers, as States, although grant refugee protection to already established refugees, they seem reluctant to process asylum claims. Such a law would clarify the extent of burden sharing and the extent of the international communities’ obligations.

The practice of burden sharing is cooperation to the fullest extent. To ensure all States have an equal share in the burden of granting refuge, whilst maintaining asylum seekers rights, would mean the international community has understood the essence of international cooperation. Although not obligatory, burden sharing is a persistent principle carrying with it a fair duty for every State, which in the future may well become customary in nature, if not conventionally binding.


Endnotes

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  184. See for example Taylor, D. ‘Police investigate alleged assault on Nigerian mother on deportation flight’, Guardian (online), 3 October 2011. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/oct/03/ police-investigate-nigerian-mother-deportation (accessed 8 August 2012).
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  190. Such a system could be similar to the German-Polish border agreement of 1993. This included a provision that, if exceptional circumstances lead to a sudden increase of refugees into Polish territory, Germany would allow certain groups of these persons to enter its territory; Junker, B. ‘Burden Sharing or Burden Shifting – Asylum and Expansion in the European Union’, Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, 20 (2005-2006). p. 319.
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Latest in International Affairs

2018, Vol. 10 No. 10
After joining the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004, Estonians felt secure and in charge of their future. However, following the 2007 Bronze Horseman incident in the Estonian capital of Tallinn which included... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 11 No. 1
This article examines the reasons why racism persists in Cuba more than fifty years after the 1959 Revolution in which Fidel Castro promised Afro-Cubans to eradicate racism from the island. More specifically, it investigates Cuba's racist history... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 11 No. 1
As with much of the African continent, the Congo endured a harsh colonial past. What trailed, after its 1960 independence from Belgium, also followed a similar trend of its continental neighbors – continued foreign meddling. At the outset,... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 12
In 2010, over 250,000 Syrian farmers were forced from their land due to water shortages. Lack of water left these farmers dangerously food insecure, so they moved, en masse, into Syrian urban centers. This strained an already overburdened infrastructure... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 11
This article uses two decision-making theories – rational choice theory and prospect theory – to examine China’s resolution to intervene militarily in the Korean War. I argue that Chairman Mao Zedong was in a domain of loss both... Read Article »
2011, Vol. 3 No. 12
As we move from Fordism to Post-Fordism and from Industrialism to Post-Industrialism, the new Market that prevails under Globalization implies many changes to the nature of work and organizations. This new Market dictates, or rather governs, the... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 11
South Sudan is the youngest and one of the most volatile nations in the world. After two decades of war, it gained its independence from Sudan in 2011. Peace, however, was short-lived. As oil prices plummeted and competition intensified, an ill-... Read Article »

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