Refugeehood Reconsidered: the Central American Migration Crisis

31 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2023

See all articles by Stephen Macedo

Stephen Macedo

Princeton University, Politics and Human Values

Date Written: January 18, 2023


“Who is a refugee?” This essay explores the lively debate on this question in ethics, political theory, and international law. The world now has more refugees than any time since World War II, and there may be no area of public policy in advanced Western states more fraught with deep moral and practical dilemmas. Are state persecution and alienage necessary conditions of refugeehood or is mortal peril sufficient, whatever its cause? The essay describes the various moral grounds relevant to claims for refugeehood, including general humanitarian duties, obligations arising from past and ongoing relations and commitments under international law, and the existence of the state system itself. Particular attention is paid to the Central American migration crisis, and the question of reparative obligations on the part of the U.S. arising from climate change and past state policies that have unjustly harmed sending countries. Further complicating the question of what we ought to do, even for progressive policymakers, is the looming threat of right-wing populist backlash.

Suggested Citation

Macedo, Stephen, Refugeehood Reconsidered: the Central American Migration Crisis (January 18, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Stephen Macedo (Contact Author)

Princeton University, Politics and Human Values ( email )

Corwin Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1012
United States


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