Doing and allowing harm to refugees

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Most theorists working on moral obligations to refugees conceive of western states as innocent bystanders with duties to aid refugees if they can do so at little cost to themselves. This paper challenges this dominant theoretical framing of global displacement by highlighting for the first time certain practices of western states in response to refugee flows such as border violence, detention, encampment and containment which may make us question whether states who engage in such practices are indeed innocent. This paper provides the first normative analysis of these practices by seeking to classify them as either doing or allowing harm and invoking the fundamental moral imperative central to core common moral commitments - not to harm innocent people - to suggest that certain western states are not merely failing to aid refugees and allowing harm to come to them, but are instead responding to their calls for aid by harming them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-321
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Ethics and Social Philosophy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2020


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