The Duties of Refugees

The question of the duties of refugees will be considered, examining perceived failure of refugees to fulfill their duties.

In this paper I consider the question of the duties of refugees. The perceived failure of refugees to fulfil their duties is often a powerful political weapon used to legitimise curtailing refugee rights through detention and measures that bar access to asylum. Yet there has hitherto been little academic reflection on the question of refugee duties. In this paper, I illustrate the importance of conceptualising refugees as duty holders and I critically examine some of the duties that have recently been ascribed to refugees in political debates. After a brief historical interlude, which discusses how the duties of refugees were initially conceived in debates over the 1951 Refugee Convention, I move to the contemporary context to analyse three particular duties that have recently been ascribed to refugees: “the duty to fight”, “the duty to leave” and “the duty to wait”.  I use these particular duties in part because they each touch upon life and death issues for refugees and have contemporary political resonance. But these duties also highlight the different communities to which refugees are perceived to have obligations: namely, their host society, the society they have left behind, and the international community. 

About the speaker:

Matthew J. Gibney is the Elizabeth Colson Professor of Politics and Forced Migration at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford.  He specialises in the political and ethical issues raised by refugees, citizenship, and migration control.  Matthew is the author of many scholarly articles, chapters and books, including The Ethics and Politics of Asylum (2004), Globalizing Rights (2003), and The Normative, Historical and Political Contours of Deportation (2013) (edited with Bridget Anderson and Emanuela Paoletti).

This seminar is the first event of the project ‘Understanding Solidarity amid Refugee Crises’, a White Rose collaboration funded project, led by Dr Kerri Woods (University of Leeds). Anyone interested in learning more about the project please contact Dr Woods on