Round-table discussionWhat kind of solution strategies should we aim for with respect to the refugee issue currently shaking the world?

March 06, 2017


20 February 2017 (Monday)

Yasushi Iguchi (Professor, Graduate School of Economics, Kwansei Gakuin University)
Saburo Takizawa (Chairman of the Board, Japan Association for UNHCR, former UNHCR Representative in Japan)
Hirotaka Watanabe (Director/Professor, Institute for International Relations, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies)

Yasushi Kudo (President , The Genron NPO)

On March 4th, The Genron NPO will launch the "Tokyo Conference," where representatives from leading global think-tanks from 10 countries including the G-7 member nations plus India, Indonesia, and Brazil, will discuss liberalism, democracy, and the future of the world.

The Tokyo Conference aims to discuss the challenges facing the world and submit proposals to the G-7 summit by providing recommendations through the Japanese government and the government of Italy, which is the 2017 G-7 Chair.

2017-02-22-(39).jpg Prior to the Tokyo Conference, a preliminary public discussion was held on February 20th, with the title of "What kind of solution strategies should we aim for with respect to the refugee crisis currently shaking the world?" between Prof. Yasushi Iguchi, Professor at the Graduate School of Economics at Kwansei Gakuin University, Mr. Saburo Takizawa, Japan Association for UNHCR Board Chairman and former UNHCR Representative in Japan, and Prof. Hirotaka Watanabe, Director and Professor at the Institute for International Relations at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. The discussion covered a wide range of refugee-related issues, including assessing the current state of the ongoing refugee crisis, the true scale of the challenges faced by the international community, their root causes, and the kind of initiatives the G-7 should take with respect to the same.

The refugee issue stalemate

2017-02-22-(37).jpg First, Mr. Yasushi Kudo, The Genron NPO President and moderator for the event, asked about the current state of the refugee issue, following which each of the panel all provided a grave assessment.

2017-02-22-(31).jpg First, Mr. Takizawa pointed out that during the Cold War, only small numbers of political refugees sought the asylum of liberal democratic states. They were political exiles who were welcomed by Western countries. However, the refugees produced currently are not only political refugees, and above all the number of refugees is so large that "the current framework cannot handle" them. He then went on to add that "the lives and human rights of refugees are certainly important, but if the burden of hosting refugees is not given consideration, that will cause a social backlash which will eventually make the wave of anti-refugee sentiment larger." He expressed concern at the current complete-stalemate state of the asylum-centered system for responding to refugees.

Furthermore, with respect to the UN response, he indicated a certain amount of appreciation for the adoption of the New York Declaration calling for more equitable sharing of responsibility for the support and hosting of refugees at last year's UN General Assembly, as well as for the inclusion into the UN system of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). However, he displayed a skeptical view when it came to the effectiveness of the UN system against a backdrop of the growing global backlash against migrants and refugees.

2017-02-22-(47).jpgMr. Watanabe, agreeing with Mr. Takizawa's viewpoint, stated that "there is a lack of funding and human resources to tackle current crisis. A single nation cannot cope on its own, so there is an emerging necessity to deal with the situation collectively on a global scale." In particular, he alluded to the scale of the burden on local communities in host communities in host countries and emphasized that it is crucial to manage frustration in local communities in order to avoid politicization of refugee issues.

Mr. Iguchi asserted that even with the influx of refugees into Europe coming under control, that "was simply the result of refugees stagnating on Europe's periphery." He also sounded the alarm bell, stating that "the current focus is solely on Syria, but there is increasing refugee influx pressure from other failed states such as South Sudan and Libya." Furthermore, on the topic of the IOM, Mr. Iguchi commented that refugee issues should be reframed as issues related to "movement of people," including international students and employment. He stressed that the issue should be addressed by expanding the scope of the refugee resettlement strategy, instead of framing the current issues as a mere "refugee crisis."

With the existing governance no longer responsive, thinking from a different perspective is essential

Next, Mr. Kudo asked if there was a gap between the current global governance framework (including the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees that primarily targets political refugees) and the reality (including the issues related to internally displaced persons). Mr. Takizawa replied that as a result of the more diversified causes for forced movement of people, such as domestic strife and religious persecution, "it has become difficult to cope using the existing scheme." In particular, having pointed out the fundamental problem in the basic assumption of refugee protection solely focused on "relief for political exiles," he spoke of the need for a change toward thinking about proactive measures for providing support to potential refugees in areas of strife - the notion of "from asylum to protection."

Mr. Takizawa further added that while there is no convention concerning internally displaced persons, with the establishment of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in 1998, international standards and norms are in the process of being developed. However, he also pointed out that there is neither a convention nor a body in place to protect survival migrants who look to other countries due to poverty from strife or other trouble. He stressed that in order to address the root causes producing survival migrants, it is vital to regain domestic stability in fragile states (e.g. by achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs)), and make it unnecessary to come to Europe for survival in the first place.

Mr. Watanabe agreed with Mr. Takizawa's opinion concerning survival migrants with respect to the stabilization of areas of strife, and said that how migrants are integrated into society once they have settled, such as in the case of Europe, is also an important point.

Mr. Watanabe also acknowledged the limits with respect to the ability of the United Nations to respond due to the fact that it does not embody a top-down structure to implement specific measures. This is why it is of fundamental importance to build horizontal cooperative structures to respond by enhancing cooperation between supranational organizations such as the EU and between the regions concerned.

What are the perspectives required to address the refugee issue in the future?

Finally, Mr. Kudo enquired about realistic and effective measures for the refugee issue to be touched upon in the Tokyo Conference and joint statement for G-7 summit.

In response to this, Mr. Takizawa introduced Professor James C. Hathaway's proposal on resettlement, which involves "providing protection for those who escape, but no right to choose which country to resettle." This means that "the burden on the countries popular with refugees, such as Germany, will be dispersed, and this will lower the incentive to risk their lives to go to Europe if they cannot choose the country for resettlement." Furthermore, with respect to the G-7, given the high possibility of the United States turning its back on the reception of migrants and refugees due to the policies of President Trump, he pinned his hopes on the "G-6" without the U.S. to play larger part.

Mr. Watanabe remarked that "it would be ideal if there could be a global-citizen kind of governance structure with respect to the free movement of people," but that in reality it is necessary to create a new framework for international institutions and regional cooperation.

Mr. Iguchi commented that while "it is the mission of liberal democratic nations to rescue those who have been deprived of freedom and democracy," the "acceptance of 'people who are different' from one's own causes anxiety in any society." On this point, matching between hosting communities and refugees should be implemented in order to reduce anxiety in the community. Given the large role that volunteers have played in the response to refugees in Germany, he also stressed that "civilian initiatives are also important."

Reviewing and bringing the debate to a close, Mr. Kudo spoke enthusiastically on reaching consensual recommendations to the G-7 summit on refugee issues at the Tokyo Conference which will be held on the 4th of March, based on today's preliminary panel debate and discussion.

Post a comment