A Liberal Theory of Asylum
Politics, Philosophy & Economics, 11.3 (2012): 235-257
41 Pages Posted: 25 May 2012 Last revised: 7 Oct 2013
Date Written: May 24, 2012
Hannah Arendt argued that refugees pose a major problem for liberalism. Most liberal theorists endorse the idea of human rights. At the same time, liberalism takes the existence of sovereign states for granted. When large numbers of people petition a liberal state for asylum, Arendt argued, these two commitments will come into conflict. An unwavering respect for human rights would mean that no refugee is ever turned away. Being sovereign, however, allows states to control their borders. States supposedly committed to human rights will thus often violate the rights of refugees by denying them entry. I attempt to defend liberalism from Arendt’s criticism by outlining a rights-based model of asylum that is enforceable by sovereign states. This approach avoids the question of what border enforcement measures, if any, are defensible at the level of ideal justice, and instead seeks to outline a framework of refugee rights that can be realized in a world in which migration controls are a fact of life. Central to my argument is a distinction between the place where a person is recognized as a rights-bearing agent, and the potentially different place where he or she exercises those rights.
Keywords: refugees, human rights, liberalism, asylum, Arendt
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