Mobility without membership: Do we need special passports for vulnerable groups?

Resettlement through Responsibility Sharing

Michael Doyle (Columbia University), Janine Prantl (Columbia University), and Mark James Wood (Columbia University)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognises refugee resettlement as one of three ‘durable solutions’ (see e.g., Franken 2003). Durable solutions are conditions targeted towards helping refugees to become self-reliant. What makes refugee resettlement so important is the fact that the majority of the 79 million forcibly displaced people (29 million refugees) live in poor or developing nations, where they do not have any prospect of such ‘durable’ solutions. Globally, the developing world bears the cost of hosting refugees with inadequate financial and technical assistance. Those nations face, as the former UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Migration and Development Peter Sutherland described, ‘responsibility by proximity’ (UN News 2015). Yet, only a few refugees are selected for resettlement programmes in wealthy nations. Generally, refugees face the initial hurdle that there is no enforceable right to be resettled (Lindsay 2017), and subsequently, they might still have to wait many years to finally reach the ultimate goal of durable integration, i.e. citizenship. In this regard, Jelena Džankić and Rainer Bauböck aptly point to the issue that free movement across international borders is a citizenship-based right, not a basic human right.

As do Jelena Džankić and Rainer Bauböck, we suggest that mobility regimes for vulnerable groups shall not be restricted solely to “refugees” as defined under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Today, people are forced to flee their countries to save their lives because of many factors that go beyond the Convention’s standards of “persecution” for reasons of “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” Civil wars, generalised violence and natural disasters such as floods and droughts all play a part.

When we look at responsibility sharing for resettlement at the global level, we see that richer nations are not contributing their fair share in comparison to their counterparts in less developed countries. But what should and could realistically be done? If we assume that refugees cannot rely on an ‘utopia’ of world-wide open borders (for a moral argument in favor of open borders, see Huemer 2013) and they cannot benefit from an enforceable obligation of solidarity and responsibility sharing among states under the current voluntary and unilateral regime (Hathaway and Neve 1997), then what are the viable alternatives?

The Model International Mobility Convention (MIMC), a model treaty drawn up by 40 plus experts in 2016 and 2017, addresses alternative forms of international responsibility. It proposes two viable options: one, richer nations could and should either contribute more funds based on their GDP, or two, they should resettle more refugees. Member states can have a choice on which option they would prefer. This would lift the burden and strain imposed upon poorer nations simply because of their proximity.

Building on a 2015 European Union (EU) responsibility sharing mechanism designed for the purpose of intra-EU relocation, the Model International Mobility Convention (MIMC) proposes using the top 20 economies to resettle refugees with their shares being determined by an equitable formula reflecting GDP, the population of the country (capped at the US population), unemployment and the number of refugees already resettled. The logic is that nations with larger economies and a large population are better equipped for resettlement, and countries with high unemployment and a substantial number of already resettled refugees are less capable of contributing to new resettlement.

We do not imagine that such an allocation can be imposed. It did not work in the EU in 2015 (e.g., Henley 4 March 2016). We do propose that countries adopt a national responsibility to assist and agree to be monitored by UNHCR and the international community. The industrial countries have both the capability and the responsibility to act. They have contributed and are contributing to the global warming that has produced the rising toll of natural disasters. Their sale of arms, predatory resource extraction and imports of drugs have helped destabilise many developing countries. And basic human solidarity calls out for assistance to those fleeing in peril of their lives.