Assisting and protecting refugees in Europe and the Middle East – politics, law, and humanitarian practices

Syrian Refygee Camp on the Turkish Border. Image by Wikimedia Commons / Voice of America News: Henry Ridgwell

Date/Time: 19/09/2019  09:00 - 16:00

Location: PRIO

Event jointly organized by the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (UiO) and the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies (PRIO, CMI, NUPI).

What are the current trends when it comes to assisting and protecting refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe and in the Middle East? How do political decisions regarding refugees taken in one region affect assistance and protection in other regions?

Migration management policies and practices in Europe and the Middle East are usually studied and discussed separately. When European policy makers consider protection of refugees and asylum seekers in the Middle East, the overarching concern is generally how these states can be better supported in their means to protect and assist – all in a bid to prevent onwards movement to Europe. In other words, a failure to deliver on this on behalf of Middle Eastern states is generally seen as a question of capacity rather than political will. Closer examination nevertheless reveals a more complex picture, including intricate policies of temporariness and marginalization. And while the means to strengthen European borders seem endless, European states are also holding back on relief to those arriving in Europe, following an ostensible fear of creating pull factors for more refugee arrivals.

In this one-day seminar we explore three interconnected themes which are axiomatic to today’s refugee response. First is the increased criminalization of humanitarian aid. Where states seek to prevent the arrival and/or stay of refugees and other migrants, this phenomena has become increasingly pregnant. In politicized contexts both in Europe and in the Middle East, humanitarian actors are seen as agents facilitating the arrival and unauthorized presence of these individuals. Sometimes humanitarian actors have even faced accusations of being complicit in migrant smuggling. How does this process of criminalization affect humanitarian action as such, its room of manoeuvre and interaction with state-led policies?

A second trend is the growing policy of containment of refugees, both in regions of origin but also in the border regions of Europe. Efforts to constrain, deflect and deter migrants have intensified, and include high-tech barriers in the Southern Mediterranean and the reinforcement of border control in central Europe. The EU’s policy of regional containment in the Middle East has not only resulted in the criminalization of individuals arriving to Europe irregularly – and their helpers – but arguably also to the development of the Middle East region as a ‘catch basin’ for refugees and other migrants. While the containment of people on the move is often miscast as a humanitarian action to save lives, a pressing question is whether this regional containment policy is actually turning the Middle East into a SuperCamp that immobilizes refugees and migrants alike through humanitarian architectures of containment?

As a third theme, this seminar explores the practice of humanitarian lawyering. The shrinking space for civil society in many countries has had an especially pronounced effect on defenders of the rights of refugees. The ability of legal aid organizations and others to argue for the protection of asylum seekers and refugees is increasingly constrained in both Europe and in the Middle East. In Europe, asylum seekers’ access to legal aid has been undermined by legislative proposals targeting civil society organizations that support the arrival or stay of asylum-seekers or refugees. Even in countries where legal aid is available in general, obstacles regarding the quality, funding or availability of legal aid for asylum applicants are increasingly reported. In the Middle East, few states are furthermore party to the core international treaties protecting refugees and few have fully developed national asylum systems. Yet, local legal practitioners have founded national non-governmental organizations and networks of lawyers to protect refugees – and have achieved notable successes. How is the provision of refugee legal aid affected by the shrinking of civil society space? How do humanitarian lawyers navigate, and adapt to, the current pressing challenges?

This event is free and open for all. Please register by following this link.

The content of this event is based on three projects funded by the FRIPRO-programme of the Research Council of Norway.

Tentative Program (more information to follow)

09:00 – 09:15 Welcome and introduction

09:15 – 10:45 First session: Humanitarian criminalization

10:45-11:00 Coffee break

11:00 – 12:30 Second session: Humanitarian containment

12:30 – 13:15 Lunch

13:15 – 14:45 Third session: Humanitarian lawyering

14:45 -15:00 Coffee break

15:00 – 16:00 Roundtable debate: Europe and Middle East Migration Policies 

17:00 Early dinner by invitation only

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