• Fellow feeling, but not on our side of the fence please

    Global events can have complex, challenging impacts far from the location that they take place. Ripple effects from conflict spread across borders and create policy problems for leaders in states far away. The current refugee crisis in Europe is such a case.

    Thousands of refugees fleeing crises in countries such as Syria, Somalia, Libya, and Afghanistan have taken incredible risks to reach Europe in the hope of escaping the horrors in their homelands. But Europeans are not anxious to welcome a huge influx of people from far-away lands. Moral obligations may founder on the hard rocks of political reality.

    The crisis in Europe is made more difficult because Europe has a unique set of international institutions. The European Union provides strong regional governance, but must respect the sovereignty of its members. This can be especially difficult when member states disagree on what should be done in a crisis.

    The EU has a set of rules for immigration that are meant to manage those seeking to enter the EU.

    But how well do these rules work in a major crisis? Thousands of refugees are trying to enter the EU every day, many seeking to move on to countries in northern Europe with large diaspora communities or better state services. This has generated a powerful political backlash in many EU states.

    International law requires that states provide asylum to refugees fleeing from conflict. Babar Baloch, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, outlines the plight of many of those seeking entry into the EU and argues that the EU has both a moral and legal obligation to accept the refugees.

    Balancing international commitments with domestic political reality is always difficult in a crisis. The strong influence of the European Union in national decision-making can make this unusually challenging for its members. As one of the few examples of strong-multi-level governance, this crisis shows both the strengths and weaknesses of international institutions. While states may make strong commitments, it can often be hard for international institutions to enforce their rules.


    Discussion starters:

    1. Does the commitment to United Nations rules regarding refugees create a moral obligation to provide aid to those fleeing to Europe? Does it create a legal one? In international law, without a global enforcer, does this distinction matter?
    2. Would the migration crisis that we are seeing in Europe be easier to manage without international institutions to coordinate national behavior? If each state were left to its own, without the need to consider EU rules, would it make a difference in what policies these states adopted regarding the refugees?
  • Refugees: A crisis of inaction?

    So far, in 2015, 1870 people/refugees have died in the Mediterranean Sea alone. 

    Stop for a brief moment and think about what it must be like to be living in a country that is being destroyed by civil war. Your life and the lives of your partner and children are at great risk of immediate death. So you gather up what you can carry and walk away.  This describes the lives of about 59.5 million people today that have been forced to flee from violence, conflict, persecution, and human rights abuses.

    In large part due to the Syrian civil war, our global village now faces the largest refugee crisis since World War II. After, that war to end all wars, in 1951, our village leaders enshrined the legal right to claim asylum outside your own country in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

    The vast majority of the world’s refugees – more than 80 per cent – are in developing countries that cannot afford the additional economic burden. In contrast, many wealthier nations like the United States and those in the European Union are tightening their borders and struggling with internal debates over how many refugees they will accept.

    Discussion starters: 

    1. Should the richer countries of our global village do more to honor the spirit of the Refugee convention?
    2. Do you feel ashamed – with Mary Robinson – that so many people are dying trying to flee North Africa to get to Europe?

  • Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Nones: The future of religion across the globe

    The religious profile of the world is rapidly changing.

    The Pew Research Center released a report from its Global Religious Futures project which forecasts the changing size of eight major religions over the next half century.

    While the number of Christians in the United States is shrinking there will still be more Christians than any other religious group by 2050. The report predicts that the global Christian population will remain stable over the next 35 years, despite Muslims being the fastest-growing religious group.

    More and more people are likely to have no religion at all. Religiously unaffiliated people – sometimes called the “nones” – currently account for 16% of the world’s population, and they make up the largest “religious group” in seven countries and territories. Perhaps more remarkably, they also are the second-largest group in roughly half (48%) of the world’s nations.

    According to the report, if current trends continue, by 2050 we will see…

    • The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.
    • Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.
    • The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.
    • In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.
    • India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.
    • In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.
    • Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Discussion starters:

    1. How might these changes effect relations among nations?
    2. What changes might the growth of “nones” have on global relations?