World Refugee Day – The Voting Rights of Refugees
In recognition of World Refugee Day 2018 you can access the chapter Enfranchisement of Recognised CSR1951 Refugees in Elections of Their States of Asylum from Ruvi Ziegler’s new book, Voting Rights of Refugees until the 20th July 2018.
In Voting Rights of Refugees, I develop a novel legal argument about the voting rights of recognised 1951 Geneva Convention Refugees.
The political predicament of refugees concerns the situation in which refugees have been recognized as such and live in a state of asylum. In that state, they are deprived not of the right to freedom, because this is now granted to them, but rather of the right to action. Not of the right to think whatever they please, but of the right to an opinion that counts politically.
My main normative contention is that such refugees should have the right to vote in the political community where they reside, assuming the political community is a democracy, and that its citizens have the right to vote.
The basis of this contention is that the right to political participation in some political community is a basic right from the point of view of dignity and the protection of one’s interests. Since refugees are either unable or unwilling to return to their state of origin due to a justifiable fear of persecution, they are thus deprived of their basic rights of citizenship for an indeterminate period: neither fixed-term nor permanent.
Since refugees are either unable or unwilling to return to their state of origin due to a justifiable fear of persecution, they are thus deprived of their basic rights of citizenship for an indeterminate period: neither fixed-term nor permanent.
When a state grants somebody refugee status, nobody knows how long that status will have to last. That is because the Refugee Convention stipulates a closed list of six conditions under which refugee status ceases. The assumption is that a refugee, once recognized, retains that status indeterminately and indefinitely.
The book suggests that, due to their unique political predicament, 1951 Geneva Convention Refugees are a special category of non-citizen residents who have no ‘voice’ either in their country of origin or in their country of asylum. Unlike other types of migrants, refugees are unable to vote from abroad because their status is based on a well-grounded fear of persecution in the state of origin. While they enjoy the unqualified right to return to their country of asylum in case of travel abroad using a Convention Travel Document, thy lack diplomatic protection and consular assistance abroad.
I contend that refugees, too, deserve to have a place in the world in the (Hannah) Arendtian sense, where their opinions are significant, and their actions are effective. Their state of asylum is, for the time being, the only community in which there is any realistic prospect of political participation on their part.
A recent International Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) report (‘Political participation of refugees: Bridging the Gaps’) explores the challenges and opportunities related to political participation of refugees in their host and origin countries through a comparative analysis of eight different case studies carried out in Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Lebanon, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa and focusing on refugees coming from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria.
The report’s findings reify the book’s normative contentions. They demonstrate that, while non-formal means of participation such as consultative bodies, civil society organizations or protests, are often the only way for refugees to have a political expression, both in relation to the host country as well as their country of origin, such means do not replace formal engagement in political life.
Image: Another Day Lost by Syrian artist Issam Kourbaj