Asylum, Immigration and Refugees: Out of Control

Asylum-seekers are often seen as being on a shopping spree for the ideal country of refuge. As they get mixed up with growing numbers of economic migrants, it has become increasingly difficult and expensive to ensure refugees get the protection they deserve. New European procedures will try to separate the moral imperative of asylum from economic need.

The World Today Published 1 August 2001 Updated 26 October 2020 6 minute READ

Alexander Casella

Assistant Director and Geneva Representative of the Vienna based International Centre for Migration Policy Development

The word asylum comes from the Greek and describes a place of refuge where a man could escape from the reach of the power of the state. Traditionally, the place of asylum was the temple. However if the person who had sought refuge in the holy place had committed a blatant crime he would be denied food and water to compel him to leave the place of worship, which then enabled the temporal power to lay hand on him.

Thus, since its very origin, the corollary of asylum was its management. Three thousand years later the problem is unchanged; asylum without management leads to abuse, which in turn leads to the erosion of the principal. To preserve the principal requires that it be managed. The problem is how.

Three questions have to be addressed in managing asylum: who is a refugee; where should they seek asylum; and for how long?

A refugee is defined by persecution for political or religious reasons or for belonging to a specific social group.

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