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
- 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.
- 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.
- A primary purpose of the Refugee Convention is to give refugees rights in hosting states in order to help them rebuild their lives.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.