Forced Migration, the Refugee Regime and the Responsibility to Protect

In: Global Responsibility to Protect
Susan Martin
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Forced migration has many causes and takes many forms. People leave because of persecution, human rights violations, repression, conflict, natural and human-made disasters, and environmental hazards. Through most of the 20th century, international protection was focused—if at all—on persons who had crossed international borders in seek of refuge from war and persecution. This article asks if the responsibility to protect concept—applied heretofore to persons displaced by conflict and repression—could usefully provide a framework for determining who among the broader category of forced migrants should be of concern to the international community. It sets out criteria under which the refugee regime would appropriately be the mechanism through which the international community would respond to these new displacements. I argue that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has evolved to protect persons whose own governments cannot or will not provide such protection. Other UN and international agencies, such as the International Organization for Migration, have a demonstrated capacity to provide assistance to persons displaced by natural disasters and environmental hazards, but only UNHCR has a history of providing protection to displaced populations.To the extent that States are unwilling to protect their own citizens who are displaced from these causes, the refugee regime would legitimately have a role to play in advocating for and, when possible, assisting and protecting these forced migrants.

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