Using Geras to understand the Syrian refugee crisis

Bates, D. and Keil, S. (2016) Using Geras to understand the Syrian refugee crisis. In: Political Studies Association Annual Conference, 2016, 21st-23rd March, 2016, Brighton. (Unpublished)

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This paper will highlight how international actors, here referring to Western liberal democracies, have become bystanders in the current refugee crisis. By doing so, they have not only become morally guilty of ignoring their international responsibility to allow people to claim asylum and seek protection, but have actively contributed to increased suffering.

The argument of western liberal democracies as bystanders is derived from a critical engagement with the works of Norman Geras (1998) and is applied to two levels of analysis.

In the first part, the paper will show how a failure to intervene and protect civilians at the start of the Syrian uprising represented a neglect of western liberal democracies of their international moral obligations. In turn, this contributed to more extreme forms of suffering, including that produced through the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, and the genocidal practices of the Islamic State. In this context, Western liberal democracies have become bystanders in the face of suffering. As Geras argues:

‘If you do not come to the aid of others who are under grave assault, in acute danger or crying need, you cannot reasonably expect others to come to your aid in a similar emergency; you cannot consider them so obligated to you…’ (Geras, 1998: p. 28)

In the second part of the paper, we will highlight how the failure to support Syria’s neighbouring countries as well as provide appropriately extensive aid to the current Syrian refugees can be regarded as a further example of western liberal democracies’ failure to take seriously their international (and moral) obligations. This has resulted in a worsening of the situation including increased violence against people seeking protection, thousands of deaths as a result of the use of dangerous travel routes, and increased xenophobia in many Western countries. This is not least symbolised by the re-introduction of border controls and barbed-wire to prevent people from crossing into countries where they might claim asylum.

The paper will conclude with an argument, highlighting the immediate need to support refugees arriving in Europe and elsewhere, while at the same time arguing for a stronger diplomatic and if necessary military effort to end the war in Syria to prevent further suffering. The problem, it will be claimed, is that Western countries are not willing to effectively intervene in Syria, though they have the capability to do so.; nor are they willing to integrate the growing number of Syrians fleeing to Europe. This situation

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
F History United States, Canada, Latin America
Divisions: Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences > School of Psychology, Politics and Sociology
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Dr David Bates
Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2016 10:50
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2016 10:50

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00