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Should democracies permit citizens to select refugees for admission and resettlement?

Patti Tamara Lenard, University of Ottawa

Tue 7 August 2018

11:00am - 12:00pm

Fishbowl Room, Building 24, University of Canberra


One way that states discharge their duties to refugees is by admitting them for resettlement. Of the millions of refugees in places of refuge, only one million are specially designated by the UNHCR for resettlement in third countries. These individuals, identified by the UNCHR as either especially vulnerable, or particularly unlikely to find any alternative permanent solution, are prioritized for admission to third countries for resettlement. Of these, only a small number are actually selected by host countries for resettlement, however; last year, just over 100 000 found permanent homes in third countries. In this article, I take all of this context seriously, to consider the ethics of one particular way of selecting refugees for resettlement, that is, by giving citizens the driver’s seat in selecting refugees for admission to resettlement. I ask, in this article, whether it is morally acceptable to permit citizens of democracies to select specific refugees for resettlement, under the condition that they are willing to support – financially and emotionally – those whom they select. I argue, ultimately, that there are moral goods that derive from permitting citizens to select refugees for admission, but that they do not outweigh the importance of offering scarce resettlement spots to those who are most in need. Therefore, any democratic refugee admission scheme that permits citizens to select refugees must constrain those who can be named for admission to those who are most in need. I conclude with some proposals for how this can be achieved.

About the speaker

Patti Tamara Lenard is Associate Professor of Ethics in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa. She is the author of Trust, Democracy and Multicultural Challenges (Penn State, 2012). Her work has been published in a range of journals, including Political Studies, Ethics and International Affairs, Review of Politics, and Ethics and Global Politics. Her current research focuses on the moral questions raised by migration across borders in an era of terrorism, especially as it pertains to refugees and irregularly present migrants, trust and social cohesion, and democratic theory more generally. Her most recent work, focused on the moral dilemmas posed by denationalization for terror-related crimes, is newly published in the American Political Science Review (2018).

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