It’s a Crisis of Policy, Not Numbers


Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, Research Director and Professor at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, recently authored an article in the Journal on Migration and Human Security. In it, he argues that the current paradigm governing global refugee policy is fundamentally unsustainable and needs to be replaced.

The article, “The End of the Deterrence Paradigm? Future Directions for Global Refugee Policy“, co-authored with Nikolas F. Tan, PhD Fellow at Aarhus University, discusses how the current deterrence paradigm has been challenged by the recent refugee crisis.

They argue that deterrence policies towards asylum seekers and refugees have dominated the response by states, not least during the current crisis.

The article offers a broader view of deterrence than is commonly considered. It divides deterrence into five categories that are limiting the arrivals and/or presence of asylum seekers and refugees, namely the non-admission policies, the non-arrival measures, the offshore asylum processing and relocation of refugees to third countries, the criminalization of irregular migration and human smuggling and finally the indirect deterrence measures, such as restrictions to family reunification, shorter residence permits or lowering social benefits.

In sum, deterrence may thus be seen as a particular policy paradigm governing global refugee protection. The authors argue that the deterrence paradigm needs to be replaced because it is failing in responding to the crisis not only because of its negative effects in regard to refugees, but also because the recent events illustrate that in the longer run these policies are neither sustainable nor effective.

In the conclusion of the article, some possible alternatives to the current deterrence paradigm are discussed. The authors argue that in order to achieve a more sustainable regime, three aspects must as a minimum be considered. Firstly, that in spite of its shortcomings the 1951 Refugee Convention provides a necessary and flexible legal framework upon which global refugee policy may be negotiated  Secondly, they emphasise the importance of the international solidarity if the current maldistribution of global protection responsibilities is not to result in further flows of secondary movement. Thirdly, they highlight how a broader notion of refugee protection, in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention, must be secured for the majority of refugees in countrie of first asylum, including such elements as access to education, jobs, health care, and the justice system.