Rising Displacement and the Need for Legal Reform

Photo by United Nations Photo / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Article by: Adnan Toric, JD 2021

Background

As the world nurtures a global village and displacement due to conflict grows, caring for the world’s displaced villagers becomes more apparent. Displacement is at a record high. It does not just impact people removed from their homes but the entire world feels its economic effects.

The global community must figure out the most effective means of dealing with displacement and refugees. Furthermore, the global community must determine whose obligation it is to deal with the issue long term. Often, States cannot solve the problem or feel that it is not their obligation.

While some actors have tried to resolve issues of displacement by opening borders to those in need, the root cause of the issue is left open, with States unsure about their obligation to the displaced.

Addressing the Cause

The international community’s problems with displacement include politics, resources, and confusion.

First, direct involvement presents various issues. It is difficult to rationalize a non-involved State imposing its actions and paradigm on another, especially when political ties are involved. Multilateral actors have sufficient problems justifying and executing their own involvement, much less an individual actor. Inherently, there are conflicts of authority and questions of sovereignty, causing both debate and ensuing chaos. Furthermore, the direct involvement of non-involved actors can complicate problems and ignore the root cause of displacement.

On the other hand, States offering aid to refugees seems like a simple and less political solution; it allows aid without potential conflict on a non-involved State’s side. However, simple aid leaves developed nations with an unequal share of harboring people who are forcibly displaced. Whether it is the obligation of developed countries to deal with the majority of issues of displacement is a different question. Regardless, if the majority of States do not address the weight of displacement and the numbers of displaced peoples grow, then the discontent among developed countries will likely flourish. Discontentment between States is hardly productive, especially when discussing economic and global burdens.

The Real Obligation of States

The best solution for displacement is legal reform. Each State need to make its legal system flexible and inclusive in regards to potential forced migrants entering its territory. This approach works on two levels: it gives the displaced a safe space to migrate and it prevents displacement from occurring in that country.

The continuous obligation and issue for States is accountability. Accountability is as essential in the case of displacement as it is in human rights abuse issues. Likewise, the two issues are usually causally linked. Even a post-reform State that has taken steps to accommodate the displaced is susceptible to the same issues that cause displacement unless there is a mechanism of accountability. Accountability comes from all levels of the government in the State as well as through multilateral organizations like the United Nations (UN).

States have numerous options for promoting ways to deal with displacement. First, legal programs can help the displaced learn about their status and options. The most important thing for those that are displaced after finding refuge, is understanding what can be done.

Also, legal aid programs dedicated to displacement further assist the displaced by helping them establish livelihoods in the receiving State. It is not sufficient for a State to just allow the displaced into their territory without providing some transitional aid. Programs like these are small steps that profoundly impact the lives of those that are displaced.

Another great example of addressing the issue of displacement is the UN’s adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. Member States must acknowledge and utilize the rule of law as means to address the root cause of displacement. Within the agreement, equality, good governance, and human rights are addressed. These concepts are inherently tied to goals of larger change in addressing mass displacement.

Sheltering refugees and migrants is a great solution for the temporary crisis of displacement, but to stifle the growth and root cause requires more capacity-based change. There are several practical ways that the UN can achieve its goal. The UN’s ability to foster and support legal reform internationally is pivotal to effective change in the displacement crisis. The UN would be a great organization to aid in accountability as well. The support and oversight of a large multilateral organization provides adequate resources and points of reference for States.

The issue of displacement is not simple nor easily solved. The continuous consideration and action of each individual State will severely undercut the impact of displacement.