The Ethics of Refugee Policy: Discrimination, Integration, and Politics

Co-hosted by the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace
and the Institute for Futures Studies. Co-sponsored by the Society for Applied Philosophy.

3rd May 2022
Institute for Futures Studies, Stockholm

This one-day workshop will address a range of moral issues connected to the admission and integration of refugees, and the relationship between these two dimensions of refugee policy. Our speakers are:

  • Rufaida Al Hashmi (University of Oxford): ‘Cultural Injustice and Refugee Discrimination’
  • Ali Emre Benli (Bogazici University): ‘Climate Change and Refugeehood’
  • Helen Frowe (Stockholm University): ‘Assisting the Assisters: The Comparative Claims of Afghan Refugees’
  • Mollie Gerver (King’s College, London): ‘Asylum Offsetting’
  • Kieran Oberman (London School of Economics): ‘The Costs of Refuge’

This event is in-person, free to attend, and open to all. It begins at 9.30am, and will run until 5.45pm. Please register no later than the 26th of April here.


Rufaida Al Hashmi (University of Oxford): ‘Cultural Injustice and Refugee Discrimination’

Many countries consider integration potential as part of the selection criteria for resettlement programs for refugees. These criteria usually include fit with certain cultural aspects of the receiving state such as language skills. On the cultural selection of migrants, political theorists generally make a distinction between obviously morally wrong criterion such as religion and morally uncontroversial criterion such as language. In this paper, I will challenge this distinction in the case of selection criteria for resettlement. I will argue that if we are opposed to cultural selection on the basis of religion, we should also be opposed to cultural selection on the basis of language. I will argue that what makes cultural selection on the basis of religion morally wrong is that it is demeaning to certain immigrants, given the long history of cultural injustice by states in the Global North. The same, I will argue, also applies to cultural selection based on language.


Ali Emre Benli (Bogazici University): ‘Climate Change and Refugeehood’

There is a growing literature in applied ethics that aims to address problems surrounding climate change related migration. For many authors in this literature, the aim is to theorize what is owed to individuals who are displaced due to climate change related events. To this end, they argue for moral principles that have distinct moral grounds such as the common ownership of the Earth, the Lockean proviso or duties of reparation. While these approaches are helpful in providing justifications of moral duties regarding those who migrate due to climate change related events, they overlook a major finding of recent social-scientific research: the circumstances and forms of climate change related migration are multidimensional and extremely diverse. In many cases, climate change emerges as an element that aggravates the problems political communities are already facing. Consequently, specifying the set of individuals who migrate due to climate change induced events becomes an insurmountable task. In turn, moral duties that are triggered only when we establish a causal connection between instances of migration and climate change related events are redundant in assessing real-life cases. This paper explores an alternative approach. In place of identifying a set of moral principles that concern those who move due to climate change events, it aims to investigate the theoretical ramifications of climate change on existing conceptions of refugeehood and the institution of refugee protection. With novel conceptions tailored for the context of climate change, we may distinguish between climate migrants and climate refugees, and address the predicament of climate refugees as those individuals who are impacted by climate change in the worst ways.


Helen Frowe (Stockholm University): ‘Assisting the Assisters: The Comparative Claims of Afghan Refugees’

Recent months have seen widespread endorsement of the view that Western states withdrawing from Afghanistan owe especially stringent duties of rescue to Afghans who assisted their armed forces during the twenty years of Western intervention and occupation. Although concern has been expressed for those who worked with Western states quite broadly, it is the treatment of those who directly assisted Western forces – for example, by working alongside troops as translators or interpreters – that has received the lion’s share of attention and attracted the most fervent criticism. In this paper, I argue that we should reject the view that Afghan assisters are owed especially stringent duties of rescue compared to other Afghans, such as judges, teachers, and journalists, who face similar threats of harm at the hands of the Taliban.


Mollie Gerver (King’s College, London): ‘Asylum Offsetting’

In this article, I consider whether states are permitted to engage in what I call “Asylum Offsetting.” This occurs when states accept fewer refugees than they are normally obligated to accept, and offset this failure by sending more aid than they are normally obligated to send. For example, the Japanese government has claimed that though it accepts few refugees, it sends very generous development aid to refugees in low-income countries. I argue that states are only permitted to engage in Asylum Offsetting if (a) the aid provides the same level of long-term protection as the resettlement states are normally obligated to provide, and (b) the aid is not given with wrongful motives. For example, states hold wrongful motives if sending aid instead of resettling refugees to fulfil xenophobic preferences. After establishing two necessary conditions for Asylum Offsetting to be justified, I raise an alternative policy, recently suggested by James Souter: Moral trades. While Asylum Offsetting entails state X sending aid abroad rather than accepting refugees at home, Moral Trades involve state X accepting refugees at home on the condition that another state Y send aid abroad. For example, we might imagine Sweden agreeing to donate money to Japanese development aid in refugee-host states on the condition that Japan – which accepts few refugees partly due to xenophobia – accepts more refugees for resettlement. This might seem to avoid the problem of wrongful motives, as states which are normally motivated to reject refugees due to xenophobia are encouraged to accept more refugees, rather than fewer. I argue that moral trades do not, in fact, avoid the problem of wrongful motives. However, I argue that moral trades are still morally better than moral offsetting when better avoiding the problem of reduced protection.


Kieran Oberman (London School of Economics): ‘The Costs of Refuge’

Ethicists agree that duties to admit refugees are limited by a cost threshold. When the costs are too great, are entitled to exclude. But what costs are we talking about here? One kind of cost would be purely economic. The evidence is that refugees often have a positive economic effect upon receiving states. If economic costs are the sole costs at issue, morality may demand extremely high admissions. But perhaps other costs deserve recognition. If so, which kind? The paper considers various kinds of purported costs including well-being, self-determination, political opportunities, social justice, and culture. It argues that most of the purported costs have little to no relevance when determining state duties.