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Public Seminar Series, Michaelmas term 2018

Series convenors: Professor Matthew Gibney, Professor Cathryn Costello, Professor Tom Scott-Smith

Seminar held on 28 November 2018

About the seminar

Every year, thousands of refugees and other migrants die trying to cross borders. The dangers are many. Migrants die from exhaustion crossing deserts, freeze to death on mountain passes, drown at sea. One way states can save lives is by undertaking search and rescue missions. This seminar asks whether receiving states have any special duty to do so. The idea of a “special duty” here can be brought out with the following question: do receiving states owe a duty to rescue migrants at borders that they do not owe all people in need? In answering this question, the seminar starts with an important yet easily overlooked point: crossing borders is not inherently dangerous. Migrants die crossing borders because receiving states restrict migration. This fact, in itself, does not mean that receiving states have a special duty to rescue, but it does mean they cannot claim that border deaths are nothing to do with them. The question we need to ask is whether receiving states bear moral responsibility for border deaths rather than merely causal responsibility. The seminar goes in search of, and finds, arguments for why receiving states are morally responsible. States cannot treat border deaths like any other misfortune without changing their immigration policies.

About the speaker

Dr Kieran Oberman is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Edinburgh. He joined the University in September 2013 from University College Dublin where he was a Teaching Fellow. He obtained his DPhil in Politics from Oxford University and has since held positions at the University of Louvain, Stanford University and the Asian University for Women.

At Edinburgh, Kieran plays an active role in both the Just World Institute and the Political Theory Research Group

He has written articles for public forum websites such as OpenDemocracy and the Just World Institute.  These articles seek to apply ideas from political philosophy to contemporary public affairs.


Photo: Asylum-seekers leaving Lesvos after the Government authorised them to continue procedures on mainland Greece. Credit: UNHCR/Yorgos Kyvernitis