Foreign Policy Blogs

Refugee Policy Should Always Prioritize the Most Vulnerable

Bones, suspected to belong to members of Iraq’s Yazidi community, are seen in a mass grave on the outskirts of the town of Sinjar. 30 November, 2015. (Reuters)

The Western countries refugee policy of the last three years has given rise to a great deal of debate and political maneuvering in individual countries and altered the political fortunes of certain politicians. Refugee policy, however, should produce a consensus, as most fair minded individuals agree that helping those in serious need is an obvious response. While hyperbole abounds, no one on either side of the debate wishes to contribute to additional crimes against those fleeing conflict, war and genocide.

A realistic approach to refugee policy should take into consideration that a nation state will not be able to bring in every refugee that it would wish to take in, as the number of conflicts and victims continues to grow. Also, governments should not give assistance to one region of the world while not doing so in other regions that are burdened with more difficult situations. Assistance needs to be concentrated on those who are worst off, as there is a limit to the number of funds and places that a country can provide to individuals under their refugee protection regimes.

Taking in as many as possible without planned consideration will likely have the effect of leaving the worse off in a continued state of threat. For that reason, economic migrants and refugees who have already been settled in safe second countries need to be given opportunities to come to a new state only after the most vulnerable have been assisted. Unfortunately, that is not the case under the current refugee policies.

Three considerations on whether or not to prioritize individuals under a refugee program should be made an inherent part of the process. Before any of those considerations are applied, it must be established that the refugee is not an economic migrant, as a lack of employment is not a consideration for refugee status.

Firstly, refugees that are not be able to return to their region due to threats against them and their community must be given priority. In addition, refugees who will never be able to return to a region due to threats of genocide or continued violent discrimination should be taken in and settled in a different manner as their entire culture and community no longer has a homeland. Transplanting an entire society from one region to another involves a greater degree of trauma and endured issues as an entire society could be eliminated without proper assistance. Recent cases highlight problems that are still not understood by many refugee programs in Western countries, and errors in resettlement that can lead to further abuse.

The second consideration that must be applied is that refugees who are victims of genocide must be given first priority. There are differing degrees of safety for refugees and those that have been settled in safe second countries are not under direct threat. Those safe from the initial cause of conflict that make it to refugee camps should be given priority over those already settled in safe second countries, as taking in those who are already removed from conflict still keeps the less fortunate in danger.

The most vulnerable individuals—at risk of torture, genocide and ethnic cleansing—must always be given priority as they are labelled and targeted by those in their region for death or enslavement. It is often the case that assistance in the same region cannot be properly administered as long as they are a discriminated group in that same region. This even takes place in refugee camps themselves, as assistance to unfavored groups in the region is given last in a discriminatory process that continues the oppression of that group post violence.

This leads to a third consideration. Treating individuals or groups from cultures that are a target of being exterminated should take priority, and actions to assist them should be administered as soon as evidence of even an attempt at ethnic cleansing is found. So serious is that type of situation for refugees, that blocking, blurring or stalling assistance to those vulnerable groups should be taken as a legal violation within Western countries themselves as it would likely contribute to further genocide.

Working even passively against assisting refugees that are in a situation that is tantamount to events that led to the Nuremberg Nuremberg goes against the very fibers of modern democracies and the essential elements of human rights. When considering your own policy position on refugees, their region, language and color should not make a difference, the situation and the above criteria should be critical in deciding who receives assisting and is accepted into the limited spaces available for refugee protection in individual nation states.



Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration