The Frailty and Future of the 1951 Refugee Convention

Dewey Lecture Explores the Refugee Condition in Liberal Democracies

The 1951 Refugee Convention has been considered one of the most important human rights documents since the end of WWII—yet with increased globalization of the refugee condition, the longevity of the Convention may be in question. During this year’s Dewey Lecture, Seyla Benhabib, the Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Yale University, examined the criticism surrounding the Convention, discussed the new trends in the refugee condition—including the “legal black holes” of refugee camps and the criminalization of the refugee status—and suggested embedding the Convention in a much broader perspective.

“How did we get here?” asked Benhabib, who is also senior fellow at the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Theory. “Why is it the case that most liberal democracies, such as the United States, Germany, Italy, the UK, France, Australia—the list can go on—are advocating their commitments to human rights, violating international law, and creating zones of lawlessness? In an age of rapid transformations, in which the coordinates of our everyday lives are melting into thin air, the refugee and the migrant have become the quintessential others and strangers. In the age of liquid modernity […] blaming the stranger is a way of reducing complexity and avoiding responsibility.”

A full video of the lecture can be viewed above.