Professor Joseph Carens (University of Toronto): The Dispossessed: The Ethics of Refugee Policy

The central claim of this talk is that rich democratic states are failing to meet their moral responsibility to admit refugees, given their own formal and informal commitments. 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 rich 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.”?