Review of Introduction by Juha Räikkä and Sini Paakkinen


Here is the summary and review Juha Räikkä and Sini Paakkinen wrote of the introduction, which I already emailed to you previously. Feel free to comment below.

“Serena Parekh: Refugees and the Ethics of Forced Displacement (2017)

Summary of the Introduction (most formulations directly from the text)

Serena Parekh criticizes the limited philosophical discussion of refugees. The discussion has focused narrowly on the question of whether or not we, as members of Western states, have moral obligations to admit refugees into our countries. Parekh aims to show why philosophers ought to be concerned with ethical norms that will help stateless people mitigate the harms of statelessness even while they remain formally excluded from states.

Main Question. Parekh argues that her main question is what our moral obligations are to refugees and other people who are forced to flee their homes in search of safety and security (p.1). The specific problem that Parekh focuses on is how the forcibly displaced are treated during their displacement, while they are outside of their home states and have not yet found a state to welcome them (p. 2). She is concerned with the problem of large-scale, protracted refugee situations and the use of refugee camps to deny the displaced basic rights and political participation, for prolonged periods of time. According to Parekh, these problems are distinct from questions about how many refugees a country ought to resettle or admit for asylum, which are the more standard questions philosophers and politicians have grappled with (p. 2).

Main Thesis. Parekh argues throughout the book that we have a moral obligation to reject the policy of long-term encampment as the de facto solution to the problem of unwanted and superfluous people in the world (p. 2). According to her, this is not to suggest that we should ignore long-term durable solutions such as resettlement; this is an obligation that is compatible with other obligations to refugees in the long-term but can be realized independently of them. Her claim is that we cannot ignore this period when refugees are between states. She argues that if, for pragmatic or political reasons, refugee camps are going to continue to be used to house refugees over the long term, they ought to protect the basic human rights and dignity of their residents and allow some form of political participation and accountability (p. 2). We ought to be promoting policies and practices that treat the forcibly displaced as fully human and with dignity (p. 3).

Important. According to Parekh, the reason that the ethical treatment of the displaced during their displacement is often ignored is because displacement is assumed by most people to be exceptional and temporary. She argues that both of these assumptions should be abandoned: displacement is a fact of every day political life and it is far from being temporary (pp. 2-3). Although she argues that we have a set of obligations to the forcibly displaced, she does not intend to suggest that these are our only obligations or that if we fulfil them the problems around displacement will disappear (p. 8). Parekh’s book is not an attempt to solve any of the many complex political and economic problems that surround forced displacement. She has little to say about how we change our current practices or how we overcome xenophobia and fear of the other (p. 8). Moreover, she does not attempt to provide answers for how to bridge the wide gap between what we ought to do in theory and what we can do in practice (p. 13).

Methodology. Parekh tries to show in her book that analytic philosophers working on theories of immigration and refugees would benefit from the more phenomenological description of displacement that is provided, for instance, by Arendt. According to Parekh, phenomenology seeks to unearth the lived experience of refugees from within the larger context. With this deeper understanding of the meaning of statelessness and the kind of harm it engenders, we are in a better position to understand our obligations to people in this situation. Parekh also emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary and empirical research (p. 9).

Concepts. According to Parekh, one of the most charged political questions is how to distinguish a genuine refugee—somebody who is fleeing political persecution—from an economic migrant—someone who has left their home in order to improve their economic situation (p. 10). The issue of proper definition is meaningful because of three reasons. First, only those people a state considers to be genuine refugees are entitled to the legal protections that refugee status confers both in international law and in most domestic law systems. Second, there is an important sense in which those who are considered to be refugees are afforded more sympathy and concern than those who are considered to be “just” economic migrants or fraudulent refugees. Third, denying people refugee status can be profoundly destructive to individual lives (pp. 10-11.) Parekh argues that when speaking about refugees the term ought to be interpreted as broadly as possible (p. 11). According to her, we ought to consider the treatment of all displaced people, all those who cannot find a state to recognize them as a member and spend long periods of time outside of the nation-state system (p. 13).

 Structure. In Ch. 1 Parekh argues that encampment has become the de facto way of handling refugee situations. According to her, we should not only take seriously the reality of life for displaced but also considerate the current political consensus regarding our moral and legal obligations to refugees (pp. 3-4). In Ch. 2 Parekh examines the ethics of admission – the primary focus of much normative philosophical analysis (p. 5). After that, in Ch. 3, Parekh argues that displacement entails two distinct harms, legal or political harm and ontological deprivation. They must be analysed separately (p. 5). In Ch. 4 Parekh suggests that the harms of the refugee regime must be understood from two different points of view: there are injustices that we contribute to – such as restricting policies – but also many injustices that ought to be understood as structural injustices. Structural injustices are the unintentional outcome of the actions of different agents each working for their own morally acceptable ends (p. 6). (Parekh’s own version of the summary can be found on page 7 of her book.)

 For a discussion. Possible questions for further discussion:

  1. Is there a danger that theorizing about the rights of displaced people “justifies” the existing practice of not admitting refugees to any country?
  2. Is it possible to distinguish between the best feasible refugee policy from questions what should be done in practice, and how?
  3. Do we need hermeneutic and empirical research in order to get “a deeper understanding of the statelessness” (p. 6) instead of phenomenology (which is a philosophical approach)?

Juha Räikkä and Sini Paakkinen

University of Turku, Finland”

2 responses to “Review of Introduction by Juha Räikkä and Sini Paakkinen”

  1. Serena Parekh says:

    Great summary of the Introduction. I appreciate Sune’s comment on it, pulling apart the three different ways that my book employs non-ideal theory. I’ll come back to this comment in my response to Andreas’s discussion of Chapter 4.

  2. laegaard says:

    Apart from the theme of encampment, which is the focus of the book, it is also interesting to consider Parekh’s remark that the treatment of this theme in the book falls within non-ideal theory (p. 5).
    There are several different senses in which the book’s theme is non-ideal. The first two are standard senses of non-ideal theory from Rawls, but there is a third sense, which concerns the theoretical framing of the issue. The issue of encampment is non-ideal in the sense that:
    1) It is an effect of what Rawls called burdened societies or unfortunate circumstances, e.g. famine or natural disasters. This is in many cases the cause of migration leading to encampment.
    2) It is also an effect of what Rawls called non-compliance, e.g.: a) civil war where the government of the sending country fails to live up to its duties, and/or b) other countries failing to live up to their acknowledged duties to accept refugees (and either integrate, repatriate or resettle them).
    3) But there is a third sense in which the issue is non-ideal, which concerns how encampment falls outside the theoretical categories that political philosophy usually adopts: the people left without state protection by 1 and 2 fall outside the theoretical categories we usually conduct political philosophy within – they are neither state members or acknowledged refugees. So the problem is not only that the ethical treatment of the displaced during their displacement is often ignored because displacement is assumed by most people to be exceptional and temporary; it is also because we lack an adequate theoretical category to address the issue within. This is why the ordinary treatments of immigration within political philosophy focusing on admission fails to address the issue of encampment.

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