Philosophers On The Syrian Refugees ⇒ Commentary articles on the “daily nous” blog

Read the series commentary articles to address the moral, philosophical ground and justification on border-migration and refugees issues in daily nous blog.

“The idea of the “Philosophers On” series is to explore the ways in which philosophers and theorists can add, with their characteristically insightful and careful modes of thinking, to the public conversations about current events, as well as prompt further discussion among philosophers about these events. All are welcome to join the discussion.” (Introduction: Philosophers On The Syrian Refugees)


“First, what is a refugee? The Refugee Convention defines them as people outside their country who have had (or, on return, will have) membership repudiated by persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group. The definition covers needs of those who have lost membership in a certain way. It tracks a unique harm. Refugee status entitles one to a remedy fitting this harm: protection from return (“nonrefoulement”) and new membership. This status was born out of concern over the effects such membership loss has on people and the state system. Even the “Nansen passport” precursor to refugee law arose from concern for both individuals and managing the destabilizing movement of persecuted masses.” (Max G. Cherem — Understanding the Structural Issues)

“The fear, expressed by some, that this could risk an increase in terrorism, seems massively overblown. First of all the refugees are fleeing terror and hence are not part of the problem. Second, though there may be some who enter who may be tempted by extremist action, the general effect of bringing in many refugees from Syria should be to diminish the probability of terror. This is because the US would be bringing in people who would be extremely grateful and who would be generally deeply averse to this kind of action and so they would have the effect of lessening the temptations to this kind of activity. So while there may be some risk that some persons who enter as refugees might be inclined towards extremism the general tendency should be to diminish that risk. Finally, if it is a fundamental duty of the United States to help out with the refugee problem, this means that one must accept some risk. Morality is never costless or risk free. But we do owe it to our fellow human beings.” (Thomas Christiano — Morality Is Not Risk Free)

“Ideally countries should take in refugees because everyone’s existence is fragile, even when a person is born with one of the most sought after political statuses in human history: US citizenship. We are all one hurricane, one stolen identity, or one armed vigilante away from being displaced persons ourselves. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all counting on the fact that if our family, friends, and compatriots cannot help us, strangers will.

… But America is not a nation of idealists. It is a nation of people who aspire to pragmatism. And the pragmatic solution to refugee crises in politically charged environments has already been identified. …” (Elizabeth Cohen — If Not Idealism, At Least Pragmatism)

“The distinction between refugees and migrants is a well-established one both in political discourse and philosophical debate, the presumption being that refugees have a greater claim upon host societies for assistance or sanctuary than do migrants, who are simply seeking a better life. This distinction is to be found in international law in the form of the 1951 Refugee Convention, whose signatories are obliged by accept into their countries people who can demonstrate that they are indeed refugees.

… Or we could maintain that they are refugees but be forced to admit that the legal and philosophical distinction between a refugee and an economic migrant is not a meaningful one, since it flies in the face of everyday usage, and common sense. …” (Chandran Kukathas — The Legal and Moral Conceptions of “Refugee”)

“The case of Central American, Syrian, and Iraqi refugees is not at all like this. These refugees are fleeing extraordinarily dangerous circumstances and our country is, at least in part, responsible for creating those conditions. We therefore have a morally weighty obligation, and not simply a charitable inclination, to take these refugees in. In these cases, it’s more like being responsible for breaking the hitchhikers’ car and then leaving them stranded by the side of the road as a snowstorm approaches. Sure, there is never a 100% guarantee that these hitchhikers pose no risk to us, but it is a risk justice demands we incur because of our prior actions and the facts of the situation.” (José Jorge Mendoza — Accepting Refugees: A Moral Obligation, Not an Act of Charity)

“Finally there must be a question whether the responsibility of rich states towards people who are displaced by intercommunal violence or civil war is best discharged by allowing large-scale immigration, rather than providing more generous support for temporary safe-havens in neighbouring countries. In the case of Syria/Iraq, not nearly enough has been done to provide decent living conditions, including work opportunities, in these camps. Refugee resettlement programmes could then concentrate on specific minorities who are very unlikely to be able to rebuild their lives in their home countries once the violence has ended.” (David Miller — Refugees, Free Movement, and Social Justice)

“Srinivasan observes that the effective altruism framework makes it easy to take for granted the perspective of the benevolent capitalist in a world of global inequality: the hedge fund manager can see that it will save more lives to buy lentils there than truffles here, without changing anything about the system of who has the power to do what. Invest in sweatshop labour in one country, give the profits to cure malaria in another: lives saved, and a plus in your moral ledger. In principle, the effective altruist could attempt to build algorithms that would take into account factors like freedom and self-determination, but it’s a messy philosophical problem how that would work, unsolved by any formulation of Effective Altruism we’ve seen so far.” (Jennifer Nagel — Effective Altruism and the Syrian Refugee Crisis: A Canadian Response)

“…common sense” requires that we at least slow the process of resettlement, while for Donald Trump it requires that we monitor mosques and keep a database for Muslims in America. This fear is based on the now largely discredited idea that one of the terrorists involved in the attacks on Paris entered the country as a Syrian refugee. There are many sensible things that have been said against this point of view.

…The question is not whether Syrian refugees are potential terrorists or not. The question is whether or not we are doing what morality demands that we do for refugees.” (Serena Parekh — Challenging the Terms of the Debate)

To read more: Daily Nous Blog



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