Roundtable: Refuge beyond Reach: How Rich Democracies Repel Asylum Seekers

AHA Session 261
Monday, January 6, 2020: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Empire Ballroom East (Sheraton New York, Second Floor)
Katherine A. Benton-Cohen, Georgetown University
Mae Ngai, Columbia University
Carl Bon Tempo, State University of New York, University at Albany
Laura Madokoro, Carleton University
Ninette Kelley, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Session Abstract

Media pundits, politicians, and the public are often skeptical or ambivalent about granting asylum. They fear that asylum-seekers will impose economic and cultural costs and pose security threats to nationals. Consequently, governments of rich, democratic countries attempt to limit who can approach their borders, which often leads to refugees breaking immigration laws.

In Refuge beyond Reach, David Scott FitzGerald traces how rich democracies have deliberately and systematically shut down most legal paths to safety. Drawing on official government documents, information obtained via WikiLeaks, and interviews with asylum seekers, he finds that for ninety-nine percent of refugees, the only way to find safety in one of the prosperous democracies of the Global North is to reach its territory and then ask for asylum. FitzGerald shows how the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia comply with the letter of the law while violating the spirit of the law through a range of deterrence methods—first designed to keep out Jews fleeing the Nazis—that have now evolved into a pervasive global system of “remote control.”

While some of the most draconian remote control practices continue in secret, FitzGerald identifies some pressure points and finds that a diffuse humanitarian obligation to help those in need is more difficult for governments to evade than the law alone.

This session critically assesses the arguments and evidence in Refuge beyond Reach and invites scholars to reflect on comparative histories of refugee and migration control regimes, propose a research agenda for further comparisons across time and place, and to consider the possibilities and challenges of public history around topics of contemporary political contestation. The audience will include scholars of international migration, law, foreign policy, human rights, and humanitarianism.

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