Snakes in Ireland: Questioning the Assumption of 'Collective Responsibility' to Protect Refugees
Amsterdam Center for International Law No. 2011-06
12 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2011 Last revised: 4 Jun 2012
Date Written: June 30, 2011
The recognition of the international scope and nature of the problem of refugees, which induced the establishment of UNHCR and the adoption of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, did not result in shared responsibility for the protection of refugees but rather in a strict apportioning of responsibilities between UNHCR on the one hand, and states on the other. Rather than sharing the apportioned part as a collective responsibility, states become individually responsible for refugees who seek refuge in their respective territories, and hence only for part of the problem of refugees. This individual responsibility is triggered by observing the prohibition of refoulement. Since this prohibition is not coupled to a distributive mechanism, its observance may cause huge disparities in terms of numbers of refugees, and hence in the extent of responsibility individual states incur. Remedying these indiscriminate effects would require taking collective responsibility for the problem of refugees, more in particular, a system that would secure joint and several responsibility whereby individual states have the right of recourse to other states to recover ‘overpayment’, in short: a non-discretionary burden sharing mechanism that involves all states.
Keywords: refugees, international refugee law, collective responsibility, burden sharing, UNHCR
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation