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Listen to the 12 February seminar by Jean-François Durieux (RSC and the Graduate Institute, Geneva), part of the Hilary term 2014 Public Seminar Series

What special sense of duty connects us to those people whom we call refugees, and how does this duty translate into asylum? What does the practice of asylum tell us about who we are, as individuals as well as members of political communities? How does one morally justify the special concern we feel for, and consequently the privileged treatment we give, refugees as compared with other foreigners in need?

Revisiting the main features of the ethical debate over asylum and refugeehood, Mr Durieux argues that there cannot be one coherent set of answers to these questions, because in today’s world the concepts of ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum’ describe not one, but three distinct realities. The 1951 Refugee Convention provides a coherent framework to explain the first asylum paradigm, centred on admission and on the figure of the refugee as a ‘moral comrade’. The concept of persecution, emphasising the prohibition of discrimination and the identifying value of tolerance, is key to understanding this first paradigm. However, one must acknowledge that a proper understanding of the moral duty to admit and integrate refugees does not suffice to explain contemporary state practice in dealing with the ‘refugee problem’ as a matter of solidarity.

Mr Durieux also discusses two additional asylum paradigms at work in today’s world: one takes disaster as a motivation for action, and rescue as the underpinning moral and legal imperative; and the other rests upon a duty not to return individuals to specific forms of danger, absent affinity or even compassion. He examines some of the impacts which the co-existence of these three paradigms has on the global refugee regime, and their implications for law- and policy-making on asylum, both within and among states.

About the speaker 

Jean-François Durieux is a Research Associate at the RSC and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva (IHEID) and a senior advisor to the Humanitarian Innovation Project.

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