October 5, 2015

The Refugee Crisis and Global Governance

Georgetown’s Mortara Center for International Studies hosted a presentation on “The Refugee Crisis and Global Governance” featuring Georgetown professors Rochelle Davis and Susan Martin and Rutgers professor Daniel Keleman on October 5. 

Moderated by Kathleen McNamara, director of the Mortara Center, the discussion addressed the relationship between today’s refugee crisis and the lack of effective global governance.

Susan Martin, director of Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of International Migration, posited that the current refugee crisis is primarily a crisis of governance. She said there is a tremendous need for international bodies, especially the EU, to take initiative on properly and comprehensively addressing the problem. She called for increased assistance for the countries “on the front lines”—those that are absorbing the most refugees as a result of the proximity to conflict zones. She also advocated for better plans to integrate refugees into host countries; strategies to share the burden among countries accepting refugees; and a renewed focus on addressing the underlying issues that are causing refugees to flee their home countries.

Rochelle Davis captured the human element of the crisis. She argued that “the biggest challenge that refugees face on a societal level is the ability to support themselves.” Davis described the local- and family-level challenges faced by those considering fleeing from conflict. She also brought attention to the disproportionate impact that the refugee crisis has on the already impoverished communities of the host countries.

Finally, Daniel Kelemen argued that the current refugee crisis highlights a long-term failure of EU governance. “While the scale of the crisis is unprecedented, it’s not a new crisis,” he said. “It’s been going on for years.” In his discussion, he pointed to the breakdown of both the Dublin system and the Schengen system, and the trend of some countries to “race to the bottom” in an effort to be less appealing towards, or accommodating of, potential refugees.

The panelists called for solutions that transcend the narrow interests of individual countries, and which do not make long-term sacrifices for short-term political appeasement. The problem, Kelemen noted, is not that the EU has failed to address the crisis. But, like setting sail with a half-built ship, no adequate response will ever come from only a partial strategy.

As Dr. Martin argued, the crisis, though painted as Euro-specific, is in fact global. Though Syrian refugees have received a majority of recent media attention, there are refugees and displaced persons all around the world.

Global governance must, in a thorough and effective way, address the global nature of all refugee crises.