The End of the Deterrence Paradigm? Future Directions for Global Refugee Policy: Special issue in preparation for the UN Summit on Refugees and Migration

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Asylum seekers and refugees continue to face serious obstacles in their efforts to access asylum. Some of these obstacles are inherent to irregular migration, including dangerous border crossings and the risk of exploitation. Yet, refugees also face state-made obstacles in the form of sophisticated migration control measures. As a result, refugees are routinely denied access to asylum as developed states close their borders in the hope of shifting the flow of asylum seekers to neighboring countries.

Restrictive migration control policies are today the primary, some might say only, response of the developed world to rising numbers of asylum seekers and refugees. This has produced a distorted refugee regime both in Europe and globally. While the vast majority of European states still formally laud the international legal framework to protect refugees, most of these countries simultaneously do everything in their power to exclude those fleeing international protection and offer only a minimalist engagement to assist those countries hosting the largest number of refugees. By deterring or blocking onward movement for refugees, an even larger burden is placed upon these host countries.

The “deterrence paradigm” can be understood as a particular instantiation of the global refugee protection regime. It shows how deterrence policies have come to dominate responses to asylum seekers arriving in developed states, and how such policies have continued to develop in response to changes in migration patterns as well as legal impositions. The dominance of the deterrence paradigm also explains the continued reliance on deterrence as a response to the most recent “crisis,” despite continued calls from scholars and civil society for a more protection-oriented and sustainable response.

The article argues that the current “crisis,” more than a crisis in terms of refugee numbers and global protection capacity, should be seen a crisis in terms of the institutionalized responses so far pursued by states. Deterrence policies are being increasingly challenged, both by developments in international law and by less wealthy states left to shoulder the vast majority of the world’s refugees. At the same time, recent events suggest that deterrence policies may not remain an effective tool to prevent secondary movement of refugees in the face of rising global protection needs, while deterrence involves increasing direct and indirect costs for the states involved.

The present situation may thus be characterized as, or at least approaching, a period of paradigm crisis, and we may be seeing the beginning of the end for deterrence as a dominant policy paradigm in regard to global refugee policy. In its place, a range of more or less developed alternative policy frameworks are currently competing, though so far none of them appear to have gained sufficient traction to initiate an actual paradigm shift in terms of global refugee policy. Nonetheless, recognizing this as a case of possible paradigm change may help guide and structure this process. In particular, any successful new policy approach would have to address the fundamental challenges facing the old paradigm.
TidsskriftJournal on Migration and Human Security
Udgave nummer1
Sider (fra-til)28-56
StatusUdgivet - 2017

ID: 210157153