How to think about refugee policy

Dave Bieler, a loyal MR reader, asks:

I see that you've provided some commentary on Marginal Revolution about refugee situations, but I'm curious to know what you think about refugee policies – i.e. what is the role of government? What is the role of private insitutions? How can different types of institutions and organizations improve or make worse various situations? Do you have any thoughts or links to articles or books? I think it would make for an interesting blog post!

This question may be more relevant soon, although Muslim refugees from the Middle East do not have the best chances of getting into America.  I have read that one small town in Sweden has taken in more Iraqi refugees than has the entire United States.  Here is Wikipedia on refugees.  I hold a few views:

1. Refugees are deserving of migration toleration when possible, but they are not more deserving than equally destitute non-refugees.

2. Refugees nonetheless capture the imagination of the public to some extent, albeit for a very limited period of time.  Their beleaguered status provides a useful means of framing, to boost migration for humanitarian reasons.  When it comes to private institutions, refugee issues may be a useful way of raising funds, again for humanitarian aid, although again refugees should not be privileged per se, relative to other needy victims.

3. Legal treatment of refugees is inevitably arbitrary and unfair.  There is not and will not be a clear set of rational standards for who gets in and who doesn't.  There are better and worse standards at the extreme points, but don't expect this to ever get rigorous, not even at the level of ideal theory.

4. There always exists some pool of refugees who will help the migration-accepting country, even if you do not believe that about all pools of refugees.  Let's take in some Egyptian Copts, who possibly are in danger now.  Some groups of African migrants have done quite well in the United States and we can take in more oppressed women from north Africa.  In other words, "immigration skepticism" may redirect the direction of refugee acceptance, but it need not discriminate against the idea of taking in refugees.

5. Optimal refugee policy is most of all an exercise in public relations, as ruled by the idea of the optimal extraction of sympathy.  Explicit sympathy from the public cannot be expected to last very long.  In the best case scenario, sympathy for the refugees is replaced by fruitful indifference, so as to avoid "refugee fatigue."

See my earlier remarks on sovereigntyHere is an argument against admitting refugees; I don't agree with it.


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