Kant in Perpetual Peace wrote “it is the right of the stranger not be greeted with hostility when he reaches at a strangers’ land, all people are entitled to present themselves in the society of others by virtue of their common possession of the surface of the earth, where, as a globe, they cannot infinitely disperse and hence must finally tolerate the presence of each other. Originally, no one had more right than another to a particular part of the earth.” For Kant, this is the law of ‘universal hospitality’ and should be viewed as not a question of philanthropy but of right. It simply implies that any stranger who came in peace was entitled to the hospitality of the host. In the ancient world, the practice of hospitality meant graciously receiving an alienated person into one’s land, home, or community and providing directly for that person’s needs. In various different cultures, it was referred to differently. For instance, in India, the general phrase is “aththi devo bhava.” The idea of universal hospitality emerges from humanity’s co-existence and co-habitation on this finite space of earth. Although the earth has always been occupied by diverse groups of people there exists a lack of hospitality for one another.
Globalization has facilitated the migration of people across the world, but at the same time countries have created stricter immigration policies to restrict movement into their respective countries. The underlying assumption behind Kant’s principle of Universal Hospitality is the idea of shared common humanity that exists beyond political borders. The notion of common humanity is the principle behind humanitarian interventionist practices that states take up beyond their sovereign borders. It is on these principles that the EU and many other first world countries have based their refugee policy.
However in reality, hospitality is never unconditional or universal because it fundamentally creates a power imbalance between the host and the guest from the beginning. This power of having the option to choose whether to allow refugees into their nation or not, leads to various forms of suffering of the ones already fleeing their unfortunate past. More importantly, states try to evade the responsibility of providing asylum to these migrants. The issue of refugees is always seen as a “crisis” that is inflicted upon the host state rather than a crisis for the refugees. This results in states trying every possible way to get rid of the responsibility towards such people. Outsourcing of refugees is a practice that the European Union has been practicing to evade responsibility towards the refugees. European Union has largely been involved in such practices with the help of multinational firms.
As described in part one of my article, the EU-Turkey deal in which the refugees and asylum seekers arriving on the shores of Europe were redirected to Turkey. The EU paid a compensation of six billion euros to evade hosting the refugees, coming from volatile regions of the Middle East and Africa, in its territory. This agreement was deeply controversial.
The European Union prides itself on its progressive policies based on principles of compassion, humanity, and welfare. Refugee and asylum policy in the European Union has its roots in the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, an agreement founded on Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Following the adoption of the Schengen Agreement on the elimination of internal border controls of signatory states and its subsequent incorporation into the EU legislative framework by the Amsterdam Treaty, the EU set up a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) to unify minimum standards related to asylum, leaving up to EU Member States the discretion to establish procedures for obtaining and withdrawing international protection. The EU-Turkey deal presents a stark contrast between their words and their actions. Such cases of outsourcing refugees not only involve commodification of the people but also leads to “outsourcing the responsibility” that the EU owes to the people. The deal presents that monetary compensation can suffice, putting the life of refugees and asylum seekers at risk. Moreover, this deal normalises commodifying such entities and evading responsibility towards “universal hospitality. Such practices go against the ideals of common humanity and Kantian principles that form the basis of refugee crisis response. In such scenarios, those involved in practices of outsourcing refugees evade not just the economic and logistical burden of refugees but also their duty and responsibility towards them.
The current policy responses to migration and asylum from EU institutions and governments pose serious human rights concerns and threaten the integrity of the international refugee protection system. It involves frustrating the right of any person to leave a country, whether their own or another, leading people to be trapped in abusive situations. It undermines the right to seek asylum, by forcing people to seek protection in countries that lack functioning asylum systems. It exacerbates human rights abuses that drive migration instead of improving them, by providing support for abusive security or border forces or by muting human rights diplomacy with third countries in the name of migration cooperation.
The European Union is the second largest economy in the world, after the United States. The European Union’s GDP was estimated to be $18.8 trillion (nominal) in 2018, representing about 22% of the global economy. Undoubtedly it has one of the world’s largest economic institutes and has the capacity to provide immense support and aid in global crises. Yet it indulges in practices to evade humanitarian response in such situations. Refugee crisis has directly impacted the EU because of its geographical proximity as a safe haven. The compassionate words of European Union’s policies are futile if they are not put into action.
To effectively and humanely respond to today’s refugee “crisis,” we need to understand and implement in political discourse – as we have in economic discourse – the interconnectedness and oneness of humanity as those enshrined in policies of various states, if not in action.
Vedaansh Kaushik is a sophomore at Ashoka University studying Economics and International Relations.