National Security and Refugees

Editor’s Note: The following article is published as a background guide to GPI’s 2023 Think-a-Thon. To learn and register, we invite you to click here.

Policymakers traditionally viewed national security and refugee protection as conflicting objectives. Concern arose that cultural differences between foreign-born and native populations would breed conflict and that state resources such as low-income housing, employment opportunities, and hospital space would be overrun by newcomers. Most critically, protectionist states saw an influx of refugees as impinging on national sovereignty. International law dictates that refugees have the right to seek asylum, imposing a legal obligation on countries to hear the cases and provide temporary protection to non-nationals. Right-winged governments who believe a state’s responsibility should be only to its citizens often attempt to evade their duty by engaging in refugee push-backs or transferring asylum seekers to third countries. These practices leave millions of migrants in a state of limbo, where they lack government protection and access to needed resources such as healthcare, education, food security, employment, and housing. 

Contrastingly, new waves of liberal thinking dictate that state security and refugee safeguarding exist as complementary goals. By creating robust programs for refugee protection and integration, governments can aid their national security and the international community as a whole by mitigating crises that result from a build-up of displaced people. Expanding legal immigration routes would, for example, decrease the number of people residing in makeshift camps and take business away from trafficker and smuggler networks that thrive on stringent border policies. From a domestic standpoint, newcomers can also boost a state’s economic vitality, fill labor gaps, balance out aging populations, expand military strength, and create a community rich with cultural diversity.

Upon reading further, consider the conflicting views of security and how you can create a solution that addresses both sides of the debate. Despite propaganda put forth by anti-refugee media campaigns, sovereignty and refugee care are not mutually exclusive – they even emphasize the same goal of safety. By departing from traditional norms of nationalism and adopting globally-minded ideas of governmental responsibility that encompass both national and human security, perhaps policymakers can create mutually beneficial solutions that emphasize human rights while upholding age-old ideas of sovereignty. 

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