The Dispossessed: the ethics of refugee policy

Professor Joseph H. Carens, Political Science, University of Toronto

Co-presented with the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, the University of Sydney and University of Western Sydney

11 November, 2013

The central claim of this talk is that rich democratic states, including Australia, are failing to meet their moral responsibility to admit refugees. I organize the talk around four sets of questions. First, who should be considered a refugee? If a genuine refugee is someone whose situation generates a strong moral claim to admission to a state in which she is not a citizen and to which she has no deep prior connection, what gives rise to this sort of moral claim?

Second, what is owed to refugees? Refugees need a place where they can be safe, but do they have a moral claim to more than that? Should they receive an opportunity to build a new life – jobs, education for their children, etc? Are they entitled to a permanent new home rather than just a temporary shelter?

Third, how should responsibilities for refugees be allocated among different states? In particular, what is the nature and extent of the obligation of democratic states to admit refugees? This is the most crucial question.

Finally, are there limits to our obligations to refugees and, if so, what are they? Is there some point at which a democratic state is morally entitled to say to refugees, “We know that you face genuine and dire threats, but we have done enough. You are not our responsibility. We leave you to your fate.”?

Professor Joe Carens

Professor Joseph H. Carens is Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto where he has taught since 1985. Prior to that, he held positions at Princeton University, Lake Forest College and North Carolina State University. Carens is the author of four books: The Ethics of Immigration (2013); Immigrants and the Right to Stay (2010); Culture, Citizenship and Community: A Contextual Exploration of Justice as Evenhandedness (20000); and Equality, Moral Incentives, and the Market: An Essay in Utopian Politico-Economic Theory (1981). He has also published two edited books and more than 70 journal articles or chapters in books. His research focuses on questions about justice, equality, and freedom in democratic communities. He is particularly interested in the normative issues raised by the movement of people across state borders and by ethnic and cultural diversity in all its forms.