Refugees and International Migration
The UN estimates that about a billion people live outside their country of citizenship. That means that about one eighth of the world’s population has moved or emigrated from their home country. It is the largest number in history and it is on an upward trend. Some of these people have moved by choice, pursuing education, work, or other opportunities in new countries. But most of the world’s emigrants live abroad because they have been forced to by dire circumstances at home, and most will never be able to return. These are people who would have preferred to stay in their home country but some danger compelled them to leave searching for safety elsewhere. For the foreseeable future, more people than ever will be on the move and most are moving against their will and under the worst of conditions due to war or persecution.
When these migrants are facing with the government, however, the dilemma is pronounced. The reality of human movement is at odds with the global legal and political system that gives priority to national governments and their borders. While governments claim the right to deny entry to anyone who is not a citizen since immigration laws are squarely within the domestic purview of each country, there is an equally fundamental human right that people can flee across borders to escape perils in their home country.
Due to the discrepancies between the government and the migrants, the international legal regime is set to protect the right of these migrants or to help the government manage the migrants. Three international institutions lie at the heart of the international rules for people forced to flee their home country. This includes one international treaty: the 1951 Convention on Refugees; one stand-alone international organization: the International Organization for Migration (IOM); and one branch of the United Nations: the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is the starting point for today’s international regime on forced migration. This is an intergovernmental treaty that defines the category of “refugee” and then sets out the rights of refugees and the obligations of governments toward them. The convention contains essentially four tests that all must be satisfied in order to be considered a refugee: one must be (i) outside one’s country of origin, (ii) desirous of returning, (iii) but fearful of doing so because (iv) one expects persecution on the basis of one or more of these listed categories (persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group, or political opinion). As we can see, only rule (i) could be testified by objective conditions while others are more subjective. The feelings of desire and fear could be easily judged by personal prejudices or the government’s wills. What’s more, whether you will suffer from persecution could be deliberately mixed since the government want to take no refugee in at all. It’s quite hilarious to let foreigners to estimate the situation in the refugees own native country. Is it the irrelevant foreigners who have the deepest feelings of the situation? Therefore, it’s really hard for a refugee to be legally defined and recognized as a “refugee”. The legal definition is quite different from what the public sees those homeless foreigners could all be regarded as refugees. As we know today’s migrant camps, so visible in Jordan, Egypt, Bangladesh, the United States, Italy, Australia, and elsewhere, are largely full of people waiting for the government to decide whether they qualify for asylum – they are not yet refugees in a legal sense. They are in the asylum process, which is defined by the host government, with claims that haven’t been “processed.”
Refugees are guaranteed certain rights by the Convention. These include access to education, courts, and public services on par with citizens, access to employment on par with how the country treats resident noncitizens, and the right not to be sent back to a country where they would be at risk of persecution. These are effectively limits on how the government may treat a refugee and they are meant to afford people protections and opportunities that will make it possible to build a new life in the receiving country. One simple reason is that, the eagerness of new life makes an accepted refugee a better labor in the market. Hence, the possibility for him to be hired increases which indicates a native stationary may lose the opportunity to work. If the acceptance of refugee is at the cost of unemployment rate, no government would take in refugees for asylum, let alone other public resources they may occupy. The whole supply of the nation is limited, and the portion of natives should be always considered at first for domestic political stability.
By signing the 1951 Convention, a government promises to abide by the commitments in the treaty. These are meant to guarantee a minimum level of humane treatment for refugees, who by definition have arrived in the country in a condition of maximum vulnerability. Also, the Convention defines three broad obligations of governments toward refugees. First, a government cannot return a person against their will to their country of origin. This obligation is set based on the humanitarian principle. For those refugees, returning to their home country is nothing but suicide. Secondly, governments are obligated to offer refugees access to the local courts, to education, to welfare and social services, and other opportunities on the same basis as they are offered to citizens of the host country. As mentioned before, this rule is the main reason that one country impedes the entry of refugees. Third, for all other matters, refugees must be treated at least as well as the country treats other foreigners who reside there. The last obligation also shows humanitarian concern and avoid discrimination against refugees. These are clear obligations upon governments that create a strong set of rights for refugees. In return, as it were, refugees take on certain obligations toward the host country. Article 2 says that “Every refugee has duties to the country in which he finds himself, which require in particular that he conform to its laws and regulations as well as to measures taken for the maintenance of public order.” Compare to the obligations the government should undertake, refugees only need to keep the basic social morality to live in a totally new environment which demonstrate the humanitarian of the Convention.
Since governments’ obligations under the Convention only come into play once a person has been found to be a refugee, and the process for determining refugee status is mostly left up to governments, the two produce different stories. Unfortunately for refugees, neither reveals a particularly strong record of compliance. Many governments, including the USA and governments in Europe, go to great lengths to avoid having to admit that a person qualifies as a refugee and so avoid further obligations to that person. Many other countries set a cap on the number of asylum applications they will consider each year, a maximum that is usually far below the number of people trying to apply. By making it harder to apply and by tightening the criteria for admission, governments may radically reduce the number of people they accept, while still claiming to be compliant with the treaty.
As to the UNHCR, it is a “program” of the United Nations rather than a stand-alone organization, meaning it is an initiative of the UN General Assembly and falls under the umbrella of the Economic and Social Council. But it is an international organization in all but name. The main functions of the UNHCR are set out in the opening paragraph of the Statute: these include “providing international protection, under the auspices of the United Nations, to refugees who fall within the scope of the present Statute,” and “seeking permanent solutions for the problem of refugees by assisting governments and … private organizations to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of such refugees, or their assimilation within new national communities.” The Statute defines this as “humanitarian” work that is “of an entirely non-political character.” The UNCHCR’s role looks in two directions at once: on the one hand, it is attentive to the physical well-being of individual people living their lives in a setting of forced migration, and on the other it interacts with governments, either pressuring them to live up to their commitments or responding to their concerns. However, the dilemma is manifested as described how the recent turn against migrants by powerful governments has affected the UNHCR and other agencies. Its political slant is therefore always likely to be toward the people seeking its help. It is in a position of natural conflict with governments who aim to prevent entry into their countries.
When it comes to IOM, it’s a highly political organization which provides service in exchange of fee. That sounds more normal comparing to the tenant of UNHCR. Nothing would come for free, if the organization help the refugees to find a shelter, it should have something material in return instead of simply inspirational rewards. The clauses are operationalized by the IOM as two sets of services that are available to governments, other international organizations, and sometimes private entities. On one hand, it offers expertise and training on managing borders and the people who cross them, and on the other it takes on operational roles to run specific projects designed in conjunction with a government or other agency.
All the ideas presented by International organizations could be explained in the perspective of “migration economy”. Ideally speaking, the significance and reason of emigration and emigrant is all about whether the “income” is greater than the “cost”. And how to “maximize the profit” (especially economic profit), meantime minimizing the “cost” (especially the social and cultural cost), is not a simple economic problem. In fact, all the immigration claims are included in this topic, its importance seems to be self-evident. Because of the special group status, this aspect of the gain and loss balance is totally different from other groups. For example, for both children and adolescents, and the elderly, the problem is to foresee and find the fiscal means necessary to address the problems of this group. However, in the case of immigrant groups, what needs to be evaluated is the benefits and costs of immigration policies, that is, the benefits and losses brought about by the survival and “death” of immigrant groups. Each of the criteria we use can be categorized as “benefit” and “cost”, or at least some part of it is “benefit” and some part of it is “cost”. The further away from factors that have historically been dealt with in economic terms, in other words, the closer to factors that are ignored by economic means on the pretext of being difficult to “measure”, the greater the uncertainty, and the more likely and frequent the manipulation and reversal of meaning will occur. Also, the ambiguity about the high birthrate of immigrants is, after all, about family migration, or the process of moving from the old days of single working-class migrants to the potential descendants. In today’s tight labor market, the fudge also applies to another telltale feature of immigrant status: labor. The “profit” represented by their ability to work, along with the wages they receive and send abroad, is redefined as a “cost”. It is a direct cost when they lose their job and lose their reasons to exist; It is an indirect cost when there is work to be done, when the work constitutes a kind of gravy train to be filled, and potentially to the detriment of national human resources. This “migration economy” can only be accepted if it is a whole economy, that is, one that includes all the other “costs” and all the other “benefits” that are ignored by economic theory.