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Restrictive policies in Europe and Australia leading to erosion of refugee protection on global scale – new report

Written by Sara Pantuliano, Karen Hargrave

Press Release

Restrictive asylum policies in Europe and Australia are being replicated in poorer countries, leading to the erosion of refugee protection on a global scale, a new report by the Overseas Development Institute has found.

As global leaders prepare to meet at President Obama’s leaders’ summit in New York on Tuesday (September 20), ODI researchers have warned the practices of richer nations, alongside domestic concerns, have fostered similar policies in regions which have traditionally welcomed high numbers of refugees.

Through a series of interviews and a review of government statements, the report, ‘Closing borders: The ripple effects of Australian and European refugee policy’, suggests these increasingly restrictive policies could also increase the number of refugees arriving at the borders of richer countries, as those seeking refuge have fewer places to go.

Report author Sara Pantuliano, managing director at ODI, said: ‘We are seeing a worrying race to the bottom on refugee protection around the world. Our research shows while several low- and middle-income countries are citing attitudes and practices in Europe and Australia as an example they will follow. 

‘If wealthy countries with strong economies are refusing to meet their obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, what incentive is there for poorer countries to do so? For too long poor countries have shouldered the global burden of refugees, but now that richer countries are facing this challenge, they are quick to ignore their international obligations.

‘This approach by rich countries sends a clear message that there is one for rule for them and another for the rest of the world. At its worst this means international obligations towards refugees simply do not hold any more.’

The report looks at three case studies, in Kenya, Jordan and Indonesia, where the policies of richer nations appear to have fostered the development of similarly restrictive policies, including:

  • The proposed closure of the Dadaab camp in Kenya, the largest refugee camp in the world. Government statements have explicitly shown a connection between anti-refugee policies in Europe and Kenya's determination to close the camp and repatriate refugees to Somalia
  • The refusal of Jordan to welcome refugees stranded at the Berm - an area of desert where at the time of writing more than 70,000 Syrians were trapped. Interviews in Jordan reveal Europe’s reluctance to accept Syrians feeds the perception that the burden of responding to the Syrian crisis is not being equally shared
  • Growing restrictions against refugees in Indonesia, including the Indonesian authorities worrying tendency to push back sea boats carrying asylum-seekers, following the example set by Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders.

The report concludes policy-makers in rich countries must recognise the potential for countries to influence one another and use this to promote positive policies by demonstrating good practice.

Pantuliano said: ‘The leaders’ summit on Tuesday must move beyond pledges to concrete commitments. High-income countries must reverse this dangerous trajectory and instead take meaningful steps towards the protection of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.’


Notes to Editors

  • US President Barack Obama is hosting the Leaders' Summit on Refugees at the General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, September 20
  • The methodology of the research includes desk review and key informant interviews

For further information or to arrange an interview with the report author, please contact James Rush on +44 (0)7808 791265 or email [email protected]