What are our responsibilities towards refugees?

11 November 2013

An international immigration expert will explain why he thinks democratic states, including Australia, ought to do more to help protect refugees at a special Sydney Ideas event tonight at the University of Sydney.

In his talk The Dispossessed: The Ethics of Refugee Policy, Professor Joseph H. Carens from the University of Toronto, will take a look at the justifications nations offer for restricting asylum seekers, what a just refugee regime would look like, and why he remains pessimistic that such a regime would be adopted.

"The existing refugee regime is morally unsatisfactory because it does not provide protection to all those who ought to receive it," said Professor Carens.

"It does not provide refugees with the right kind of protection over the long run, and it misallocates the responsibility to care for refugees," he said.

He will also argue that the signing of an official international convention has not necessarily led to policies that uphold its guidelines.

"All democratic states have formally acknowledged a set of obligations to refugees and have signed a convention that establishes an international refugee regime," he said.

"All affluent democratic states have also adopted policies (mainly, but not only, visa controls and carrier sanctions) that systematically undermine the capacity of that regime to protect refugees.

"[Australia] shares the failings of many democratic states in its use of visa controls and carrier sanctions and it has gone further than almost any other state in diverting refugees seeking asylum to other places and in denying them access to a refugee determination system that it has promised to respect," Professor Carens said.

This event is co-presented with the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights at the University of Sydney and the University of Western Sydney.

Event details

When: 6.00pm - 7.30pm, Monday 11 November 2013

Where: Law School Foyer, New Law School, Eastern Avenue, The University of Sydney, click here for venue information

Cost: Free and open to all with online registration required.

RSVP: Bookings essential. Contact Sydney Ideas on 02 9351 2943 or

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Media enquiries: Emily Jones, 02 9114 1961, 0481 012 600,