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  3. Day 79, Year of #Mygration: Moral Economy and the "Refugee Crisis"

Day 79, Year of #Mygration: Moral Economy and the "Refugee Crisis"

Written by Dr Avi Boukli, the Open University and Dr Flora Renz, University of Kent.

"Is protection for refugees mandatory? Following recent media coverage of the issue, journalists and media companies admitted to fear mongering and stoking anti-refugee hatred in order to support the re-election campaign of the current anti-migration prime minister in Hungary (Nolan and Walker 2018). Similarly, on both sides of the Atlantic, the so-called “refugee crisis” has fuelled a wave of anti-migration and nationalist policies, with the ultimate objective to limit the protections stipulated by international law (see e.g. Travis 2018).

"This is nothing new. Previously, it seems that Croatia (Delauney, 2015), Hungary (Thorpe, 2015), and Germany (Harding, 2015) had decided that protection for refugees is not mandatory and therefore it needs to be, at least temporarily, ceased in the interest of protecting various national objectives. These EU countries stopped protecting refugees by refusing them entry at their borders through various measures. In the case of Hungary at the Serbian border, this has taken the form of enforcing border controls, using teargas, water cannons, net guns and installing a new, purpose-built fence (Weaver and Siddique, 2015; Eleftheriou-Smith, 2015). In the case of Germany, this has primarily involved opting out of or “temporarily exiting” the Schengen system (Harding, 2015).

"Against this background, we briefly consider two key points in light of this arbitrary halt of protection. Firstly, the enforceability of the legal framework in question. Secondly, the moral economy of the current system, which allows and enables this withdrawal of protection. Regarding the enforceability question, the legal framework in this context consists primarily of the United Nation 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Together, these legal instruments set out the legal rights of refugees, as well as states’ obligations towards them. All countries mentioned above are signatories to both the UN Convention (1951) and Protocol (1967) and, therefore, it is remarkable how these protections can be overwritten as well as how participation in the Schengen system can be renegotiated, ceased, and temporarily frozen like a gym membership. However, media coverage of the current refugee crisis has so far failed to focus in any detail on the international legal framework. Instead many media outlets, as well as politicians, have misrepresented the legal issues at stake by conflating the terms “migrants”, “refugees”, and “asylum seekers”, which are distinct legal and social categories (see e.g. BBC, 2015; Edwards, 2015).

"To consider this sudden violation of an established legal framework, we want here to momentarily turn to the moral economy of this system. It is in the era of intense marketization, where contracting security corporations to build fences in the “Fortress Europe” (Roberts, 2015; Graham-Harrison, 2015) is deemed to be much more profitable, efficient, and financially sustainable than enhancing refugee protection and access to services. Indeed, much of the debate around the current (and many prior refugee) crises has been framed in terms of “resources”, “capacity” and “costs” for individual member states. Most recently a UKIP MEP made an explicitly financial argument and claimed that the EU was wasting “£6,000 a pop” on resettling refugees; money which according to him could have been better spent on UK nationals (Mason, 2015). In this climate human lives become part of a seemingly straightforward economic calculation, in which refugees have to compete with other financial expenses. The current open-market and free-enterprise morality that dictates the enforcement of protections, only as long as it is financially beneficial, has been redefining morality in capitalist terms. In these terms, morality is an auxiliary of the financial climate of the day, freedom of movement is financialized, security is invested, and safety is sold… The newly constructed refugee crisis is an inevitable outcome of the expanding military and security industrial complex, a self-fulfilling prophecy (see e.g. The Guardian, 2015). Yet, following Philip Whitehead (2015, p.95), moral economy is “metanoia” – a radical change of heart and mind. It is thus time we reconsider this type of morality."

This post was originally published at Teeside University Centre for Realist Criminology

References and Further Information:
BBC (2015) Migrant crisis: Why EU deal on refugees is difficult. Retrieved 25 September 2015

Delauney, Guy (2015) Migrant crisis: Croatia closes border crossings with SerbiaBBCRetrieved 19 September 2015

Edwards, Adrian (2015) UNHCR viewpoint: “Refugee” or “migrant” – Which is right? Retrieved 22 September 2015

Eleftheriou-Smith, Loulla-Mae (2015) Refugee crisis: Hungary’s parliament passes law allowing army to use rubber bullets, tear gas grenades and net guns against refugeesThe Independent. Retrieved 21 September 2015

Graham-Harrison, Emma (2015) Munich fears migrants and beer hunters may not mix well at OktoberfestThe Guardian. Retrieved 17 September 2015.

Harding, Luke (2015) Refugee crisis: Germany reinstates controls at Austrian borderThe Guardian. Retrieved 17 September 2015

Mason, Rowena (2015) Ukip MEP blasts EU for helping refugees while grass left uncut in EssexThe Guardian. Retrieved 19 September 2015.

Nolan, D. and Walker, S. (2018) Hungarian journalists admit role in forging anti-migrant “atmosphere of fear”. The Guardian. Retrieved 17 April 2018.

Roberts, Hannah (2015) Hungary building 13ft-high, 110-mile fence along its border with Serbia to stop the flow of illegal migrantsDaily Mail. Retrieved 17 September 2015.

The Guardian (2015) The Guardian view on bombing Isis in Syria: the UK government should win the argument firstRetrieved 17 September 2015.

Thorpe, Nick (2015) Migrant clashes leave Hungary bitterly dividedBBC. Retrieved 19 September 2015.

Travis, Alan (2018) “Unfair” Restrictions on families are unsettling refugees in UK – report. The Guardian. Retrieved 10 February 2018.

UN General Assembly, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 July 1951, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 189, p. 137, accessed 22 September 2015]

UN General Assembly, Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 31 January 1967, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 606, p. 267.

Weaver, Matthew and Siddique, Haroon (2015) Refugee crisis: Hungary uses teargas and water cannon at Serbia border – as it happenedRetrieved 18 September 2015.

Whitehead, Philip (2015) Reconceptualising the Moral Economy of Criminal Justice: A New Perspective. Palgrave Macmillan.

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