Why Wealthy Nations Need To Preserve The Rights Of Refugees.

Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

Conservative politicians in the U.S. and Europe have seized on immigration as their number one political issue. They are calling for a range of restrictive measures to stem the flow of migrants, especially those from the Global South. A growing number of migrants are coming to Europe and the U.S., escaping from a combination of extreme economic hardship, political violence and instability, and the effects of an escalating climate crisis. While these wealthier, more stable countries have an obligation to strengthen control of their borders, they also need to make border controls fair and to prioritize admission of refugees fleeing persecution.

The current anti-immigrant fervor has been building for some time. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has led the way with his longstanding campaign for “ethnic homogeneity.” He once proudly proclaimed, "I am the only politician in the EU who stands for an openly anti-immigration policy.” No longer. He now has lots of company. In the once-progressive Netherlands, where the right-wing Party of Freedom scored a massive victory in November, the party’s leader, Geert Wilders, advocates for ending all immigration from Muslim countries. In Sweden, the right-wing Sweden Democrats have grown their public support from less than 4% in the early 1990s to almost 20%, focusing heavily on an anti-immigrant platform. In the U.S., former President Donald Trump, the prohibitive favorite to win the presidential nomination of the Republican Party this year, is making anti-immigrant animus a major theme of his campaign to return to the White House.

Refugees seeking asylum from persecution have become a major target of anti-immigrant vitriol in numerous countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, the ruling Conservative Party seems determined to create almost insurmountable obstacles to prevent refugees from obtaining asylum. In 2022, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed what has come to be called the “Rwanda asylum plan.” Under this proposal, all asylum seekers who arrive in Great Britain would immediately be sent to Rwanda, some 6,500 miles away, to have their asylum applications processed and reviewed. While a British court has put a temporary hold on this scheme, its intent is clear: to effectively shut down the asylum process.

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Michael Posner is the Jerome Kohlberg Professor of Ethics and Finance, Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.