Unresolved and Unresolvable? Tensions in the Refugee Regime

| March 2019
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Abstract: Worldwide, growing numbers of refugees are pushed from their homes. At the same time, fewer and fewer are able to access so-called “durable solutions” to their displacement. This has prompted a flurry of efforts to repair the foundering refugee regime. Many such efforts attempt, implicitly or explicitly, to resolve tensions between legal principles, moral duties, and national interests surrounding refugees. As part of a roundtable on “Balancing Legal Norms, Moral Values, and National Interests,” this essay questions the drive toward oversimplification that has characterized these debates, recognizing that some such tensions are “baked into” the problem of refugeehood. While debates have typically focused on the obligation to admit refugees, and on “responsibility sharing,” I advance the conversation by exploring how law, morality, and national interests are entangled in efforts to support durable solutions for refugees, focusing on voluntary repatriation. What does recognition of the intrinsic and in some senses irreconcilable tensions in the refugee regime mean for efforts to support solutions? I argue that advancing durable solutions, however imperfect, for refugees does not mean definitively overcoming these tensions, but rather navigating them to identify context-specific opportunities to reposition refugees as full and equal citizens as a critical step towards reducing their precarity.

Keywords: refugees, refugee regime, durable solutions to displacement, voluntary repatriation, right of return


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Category: Issue 33.1, Roundtable: Balancing Norms, Values, and Interests

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