Rationalising Asylum Laws

Our asylum laws are inefficient and harmful. We want to help people who are in desperate need, who risk being killed in their own countries. We cannot take in every person who needs help. We can only take in some number due to having limited space, money, ability to integrate new arrivals etc… Let’s say that number is X per year. Rationally, we should take in the X people who are most in need. Perhaps we would compose this with some other criteria like cultural fit, dessert (bad people deserve to be saved less than good people), risk of diplomatic damage, cost of supporting them (24 year old doctor = tax positive, 50 year old illiterate diabetic = tax negative) etc… Instead of allocating asylum spots to people based on these criteria, we allocate them based on ability to set foot in our borders. The moment someone sets foot in a western nations borders, they can claim asylum and spend at least a few year living in that nation until their claim is processed.  This is unjust for a number of reasons:

  • It privileges richer people who are more likely to successfully reach the west as they are better able to afford to pay smugglers, buy plane tickets, chart boats, support themselves on a long journey etc…
  • It privileges people who live closer to a western nation and can thus get to use more easily.
  • It privileges people who are more physically fit and don’t have young children as they can travel more easily.
  • It privileges people who access to have cars, planes or boats. A fisherman is more likely to gain asylum than a farmer.
  • It privileges people who have sufficient political connections enough to secure passage out of a closed country.

All of these criteria are morally irrelevant and should not affect a persons chance of gaining asylum. In the current system, they do. What more, many of these criteria are correlated with being better able to endure hardship/war. For example, being richer/politically well connected means being able to buy food/bribe officials/get exemption from the draft. Not having young children means being able to spend more of your meagre income on your own survival. By privileging these criteria, the current policy is also likely helping the people who are in less need than their poorer, sicker countrymen who could not make the journey.

Our current system also produces a plethora of perverse incentives which have bad consequences. It

  • Encourages human trafficking and black markets. These:
    • Further destabilise weak states in which they operate
    • Systematically abuse and prey on people who seek to migrate to the west
  • Encourages governments to manage refugee numbers through more indirect means than deportation. These other means are usually less effective and less just. For example:
    • Imposing harsh conditions on those who claim refugee status in the hope that they will break those conditions and can then be deported. For example, potential refugees in the UK not being allowed to work and having to survive on £50 a week of government handouts.
    • Making claiming refugee status a difficult and arduous legal process.
  • Encourages far greater numbers of people to try to gain refugee status than would ever be accepted as they know that setting foot in a country guarantee a few years of safety. This is bad as most refugees will spend time and resource and risk death on journeys which end with them being sent home.

Our current policy is unfair and harmful. Even worse, it’s inefficient. It should be changed.

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