"The Muslim Debate", an online debate platform of MUSLIM Institute has launched the debate on "Refugees should always be accepted by other countries?". The debate has gone live on Monday, 21st of March 2016.
Following is a glance of the opening remarks of moderator as well as both the debaters defending the motion and opposing the motion.
M. Hamza Iftikhar
Research Associate, Muslim Institute - UK Chapter
The importance of this debate can be realized when one looks at the figures and statistics on refugees around the world provided by the UNHCR. There were 19.5 million refugees worldwide by the end of 2014. Turkey became the country hosting the largest number of refugees with 1.59 million, followed by Pakistan (1.51 million) and Lebanon (1.15 million).
According to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, every individual has right to seek refuge if he is unable to avail the protection in his own country. Although the Convention protects people who meet the criteria for refugee status, however, it does not prescribe a particular procedure for the determination of whether a person is a refugee or not.
Countries which refuse to accept refugees usually voice economic concerns, worries about substantial demographic change, security or other political challenges. But are these reasons legitimate? Does it matter where the refugee is coming from or should all potential refugees be treated in the same way? Should countries be selective when it comes to accepting refugees (Muslims/Non-Muslims, Syrian/Rohingya, etc.)? Are the 1951 convention obligations binding upon all the member states? Is there any need for amendments to refugee convention? Or has the standards to accept refugees changed since the convention in 1951? Does it make a difference if the refugee is fleeing from a civil war? And should an individual country be solely responsible for the decision to accept refugee or can the international community intervene in any way?
These are some of the many questions which currently surround this debate. In order to seek answers to them and many others, we look forward to remarks from our respected debaters as well as guests.
For the motion
Dr. Kirsten McConnachie
Assistant Professor of Law at University of Warwick - UK
There are 19.5 million refugees in the world today and their lives depend on our answer to this question. The definition of a refugee in international law and the nature of states’ obligations towards refugees have repeatedly been explained by refugee lawyers to the press, politicians and wider public, yet lack of understanding continues.
The current regime for the protection of refugees was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. Tens of millions of people in Europe were displaced by the Second World War, followed after 1945 by a further exodus of millions ofpeople fleeing communism, during the Sino-Japanese War, Partition of India and in the Middle East Palestinians were displaced by the creation of Israel.
The centrepiece of the UN response was 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees. A refugee is defined as a person who is outside his or her country of origin and is unable to return due to a “well-founded fear of persecution” on the basis of a number of specified grounds. In several important respects this definition is narrower than the popular understanding of a refugee. First, it excludes persons who are displaced within their country of origin. Second, it is based on future fear of persecution rather than past experience of it per se. Third, it requires a nexus between the fear of persecution and the listed Convention grounds, and in so doing excludes (among others) people fleeing natural disaster and people who have left their country for purely economic reasons. Refugee status is not granted or conferred by outside authority but is inherent in the individual. Furthermore, there should be no discrimination between different groups.
Of 193 UN member states, 145 have ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention. States that have not ratified the Refugee Convention are not so legally bound, with the exception of one central obligation, i.e. the obligation of non-refoulement.
Post-war Europe was economically and politically devastated from insecurity and violence, yet the response was of cooperation, based on a recognition of shared humanity and shared responsibility. This political maturity is absent today, replaced by a climate of fear and fear-mongering.
This is not a debate to be argued solely in law – there are also powerful ethical and economic arguments to support my position – but it is important to recognise that it is an area governed by law, and to understand some essential facts about the nature of our legal obligations. Having clarified the legal position, this motion is clear: yes, refugees should always be accepted by other countries.
Against the motion
Journalist, Author and Director at The Integration Hub - UK
No refugees should not always be accepted by other countries. No country can have an open-ended commitment to take an unlimited number of outsiders. Most successful, modern welfare democracies are relatively open to outsiders but are based on the principle of fellow citizen favouritism.
Charity begins at home but it doesn’t end there and rich, liberal, Christian countries like Britain do feel moral obligations to suffering humanity. But there are many ways to fulfill it, through foreign aid to poor and fragile states, through helping countries to trade their way out of poverty, through military intervention to restore order and through providing either temporary or permanent refuge to people in trouble.
For decades the grounds for claiming refuge or asylum have been steadily widened—the 1951 Convention has been subject to constant legal evolution and it has been supplemented by the EU’s 2004 Humanitarian Protection directive and underpinned by the European Convention on Human Rights. According to former Labour home secretary, Charles Clarke, there are now “hundreds of millions” who could legitimately claim protection. But this was only feasible in an era when people were too poor or ignorant or too locked up in prison states like Iraq or Libya to take advantage of this theoretical generosity.
We need different rules to reflect our more mobile times and to keep numbers to a level that is broadly acceptable to European publics. That means keeping the offer of permanent refuge to those genuinely facing individual persecution but not extending it to everyone who lives in an authoritarian country or whose country is experiencing some kind of conflict.
We should also continue to offer at least time limited refuge to those caught up in particularly all-consuming natural disasters or conflicts like Syria. Also by providing the facilities, we should try that people can remain as close as possible to their homes and can prepare to rebuild once peace returns. It is up to us in the rich world to make sure both that the conditions in temporary towns are good enough and that the poor neighbouring countries where they are mainly situated are adequately compensated for the disruption.
The idea that 1.5m refugees a year is trivial for a continent of 500m ignores the cumulative effect of such small changes and the fact that they are not spread evenly but are mainly coming to 30 or 40 urban areas in north western Europe. Illegal Mexican immigration into the US started as a trickle in the late 1970s and in another 20 years the US will be one third Hispanic—one of the factors behind Donald Trump.
As Dutch writer Paul Scheffer has put it—we in Europe tend to underestimate our ability to control our borders and vastly overestimate our ability to integrate people into our complex, liberal, modern societies.
In this debate, following dignitaries will be joining us as featured guests:
Dr. J. Olaf Kleist
Research Fellow at the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (IMIS), Universität Osnabrück
Ambassador Tariq Osman Hyder
Served in Pakistan Foreign Service from 1967-2007
British Politician, Broadcaster, and Writer
The readers are welcome to follow the debate and participate through vote and comments, and will be able to recast their single vote in case of change in opinion. Please visit
The Muslim Debate Website.