Non-refoulment is a principle that forbids a country from returning refugee to a country where they may face persecution. However, countries claiming to be democratic with open society often refuse to accept refugees and send them back raising following ethical questions:
- National interest vs global responsibility: Countries deny refuge citing limited resources, security threats, primary responsibility towards their citizen. However, responsibility as a member of global community is often violated. Nations justify their actions on utilitarian perspective (protecting their citizen) while neglecting deontological aspect (duty to protect) in dealing with refugees.
- Human rights are inalienable rights to life, liberty and opportunity to realize one’s potential. Turning back the refugees deny them their basic human rights.
- Turning back those in need goes against the Categorical imperative of Kant as it cannot be made into a universal principle. Some countries are accused of using migrants as a tool of foreign policy as witnessed during 2021 Belarus–European Union border crisis. This amounts to using people as means and not as end in themselves. Such actions do not pass the test of Gandhiji’s Talisman (action keeping in mind the interest of weakest).
- Most of the refugees suffer without any fault of their own. They become victim of violence due to ‘accidents of birth’ being born in particular country (Syria, Afghanistan), into a persecuted community (Ahmadiyas, Rohningyas) etc. Denying them opportunity to escape violence and persecution goes against all ethical principle.
- Historical responsibility: Western world is responsible for many refugee crisis. For example: colonial exploitation and policies (Sykes-Picot Agreement), armed humanitarian intervention leading to civil wars (Middle East), climate refugee etc. They should take historical responsibility for their actions.
- Standard of ethics in society: Dehumanizing refugee and refusal to recognize their suffering set wrong example for future and lead to decline in values like care, empathy, compassion in the society.
Democratic liberal countries/societies with resources and capacities should accept refugees and allow them to exercise their basic human right of life and pursuit of happiness.