Based on the 1951 Refugee Convention, persons who have left their country ‘owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion’ are entitled to protection. The principle of non-refoulement provides that ‘no country shall expel or return a refugee against his or her will, in any manner whatsoever, to a territory where he or she fears threats to life or freedom’.1 Following the increasing numbers of asylum seekers in the 1990s, host countries began to apply the Refugee Convention criteria more strictly and refused a growing number of applicants.2 Since the summer of 2015 Europe has found itself in the middle of what is described as a ‘refugee crisis’. The crisis has brought debates about asylum, borders and return policies to the centre of the public and political conversation. A growing portion of society has called for a stricter asylum policy.
This article will argue that even before this latest ‘refugee crisis’ discourses on asylum were becoming more restrictive, with a growing focus on return rather than protection. It will also show that the debates on asylum keep moving away from the definition provided in the 1951 Refugee Convention. It will do so by comparing the Belgian debates on forced return – and on asylum in general, which is inseparably connected to the subject – in the media and parliament during two periods: 1998–2001 and 2011–2013.3
In the first section, we will elaborate on the theoretical framework of the analysis, paying attention to relevant concepts and secondary literature, as well as to the research questions and methodology. We will then discuss the most important empirical data on the debates’ topics and stances. In a third and final section, the major shifts in the debates will be analysed.
Dauvergne‘Amorality and humanitarianism in immigration law’610; Gibney The ethics and politics of asylum: Liberal democracy and the response to refugees; Geuijen De asielcontroverse; Every ‘A reasonable practical and moderate humanitarianism’.