The Arc of Protection

Leah Zamore and I are working on a book, tentatively titled The Arc of Protection.  Our central concern is the failure of the Convention to establish a robust system of international burden-sharing, which has been a primary cause of protracted refugee situations.  The book adopts a revisionist view of the Refugee Convention and of the system of international protection for displaced persons.  We argue for expanding the category of persons to whom international protection should be extended, establishing new structures for action and accountability that would link humanitarian and development actors (outside the UN system), and recognizing “solutions” that go beyond the state-based concept of membership.

I want to summarize some of the argument of the book with the following “Theses on International Protection.”  These Theses are intended to get a discussion going; we urge readers to comment, disagree, and suggest additional theses.

Theses on International Protection

  1. International protection is the responsibility of the international community to respond to situations of displacement where it is unconscionable to ask displaced persons to return home. It is also the content of the response. International protection is not limited to the scope of the Refugee Convention.
  2. International protection is not a “surrogate” for home state protection, nor is “surrogate protection” the core of the international refugee regime or the “key” to the Refugee Convention.
  3. A primary purpose of the Refugee Convention is to give refugees rights in hosting states in order to help them rebuild their lives.
  4. International protection, through practice and conception, is extended well beyond persons included in the Convention’s definition of “refugee.” It should, as a general rule, be extended to all persons who “flee by necessity,” of whom refugees are a particular category.
  5. Non-refoulement, while a vital protection for refugees, states too narrow a principle of non-return (which should take account of other factors that could establish whether a person has valid reasons for not returning to his or her home state).
  6. Particularistic searches for the reason a person has fled her home and has a fear of return are reductionist and miss the complexity of motivations (that cause some to flee across borders, some to flee within their home state, and others to remain in their home communities).
  7. Effective international protection requires the commitment of actors beyond humanitarian agencies. International structures should be put in place to ensure a role for development agencies (and the private sector as appropriate) and to establish a formal system of accountability.
  8. The traditional three solutions to situations of forced migration reflect a “membership bias.” Mobility, as a marker of refugee agency, may also be a solution.

2 thoughts on “The Arc of Protection

  1. Dear Alex,

    Thanks for your thought-provoking theses. It is not easy to provide the kind of useful feedback that you must be looking for, not least because it is not immediately clear how the theses ‘speak’ to each other, or how they contribute to the ‘revisionist’ view your book will adopt. I wonder,for example, whether the ‘surrogacy’ theory is truly part of the problem you are trying to resolve, which is, if I understand you well, the failure of the existing refugee regime to distribute responsibilities fairly ( and/or in binding form???). Does the surrogacy theory annoy you because it is state-centered? If this is where the rub is, as your last thesis ( on solutions) also suggests, then I believe that you are not pushing revisionism far enough. As long as your discussion remains within the boundaries of international law, it is inevitably state-centric. The truly revolutionary question may be: if states, despite their express commitments, fail to cooperate in protecting forced migrants, would the latter be better off without an international refugee regime?
    You advocate for mobility as a possible solution, and stress the ‘refugee agency’ dimension thereof. Mobility, as we know, is essential to both immediate protection and longer-term solutions. As long as it is clandestine ( ie, both spontaneous and unregulated), however, the protection dividend of mobility is rather elusive, or left to chance. If you agree, then the kind of mobility you are advocating for must be one that fits established and regulated avenues of migration. In the final analysis, this form of mobility is probably not so detached from the membership paradigm as you would like to argue. In order to take advantage of international mobility options, refugees need a ‘base’, and that base is necessarily a state offering long-term or permanent residence, if not citizenship. It is more advantageous to be a recognised refugee in an EU Member State than in, say, Myanmar, not least because as a refugee in Belgium my regional mobility horizon is wide, whereas as a refugee in Myanmar I find my international mobility doubly restrained – as a refugee, and as a resident of Myanmar…
    One final comment, for now: assuming that your concept of international protection is not divorced from international law or inter-State cooperation, I am very much interested in comparing and contrasting it with my own attempt at re-defining the international community’s duty as a ‘Duty to Rescue Refuges’. To do this I would need to read more about your theses 1 and 4; but I would be grateful if you could take the time to comment on my article with that same title( The Duty to Rescue Refugees), which you can find in the latest issue of IJRL…
    Best wishes,


  2. Pingback: High Hopes: The Global Compact for Refugees and Improving Responsibility Sharing - Refugee Law Initiative Blog

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