The Right to Dignity of Refugees: Commentary on Fleur Johns’ reflections
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Fleur Johns' thesis about the increasing role of data in the verification of the condition of the world and how this impacts on international law is stimulating and bears reflection. This is an extremely interesting and innovative approach to the issue of data and its role in state engagement with mass migration. From the perspective of a scholar on international refugee law, a number of issues arise as a result of the analysis. One of the contested aspects of mass migration and refugee protection is the inherent inconsistency between two ways of thinking about human rights—the first is the duty of (some) international organizations to protect human rights in a manner which elides human rights and humanitarian law, and the second is the right of the individual to dignity, the basis of all human rights according to the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1949. The first enhances the claims of states to sovereign right to control their borders (mediated through some international organizations), while the second recognizes the international human rights duties of states and international organizations to respect the dignity of people as individuals (including refugees). Fleur is completely correct that human rights abuses are at the core of refugee movements. While there are always many people in a country who will stay and fight human rights abuses even when this results in their sacrifice, others will flee danger trying to get themselves and their families to places of safety; we are not all heroes. Yet, when people flee in more than very small numbers, state authorities have a tendency to begin the language of mass migration. The right to be a refugee becomes buried under the threat of mass migration to the detriment of international obligations. Insofar as mass migration is a matter for management, the right of a refugee is an individual right to international protection which states have bound themselves to offer.
- Department of Law