The hermeneutics of sanctuary: rights, obligation and practice
Brad Blitz (Middlesex University)
Contemporary debates on the place of foreigners have given rise to competing interpretations of the ethic of sanctuary, the provision of refuge to those fleeing persecution. Although the idea of sanctuary is now embodied in the concept of asylum, scholars disagree over the locus of responsibility to receive and protect foreigners. At issue is whether longstanding moral arguments and religious proscriptions aimed at individuals and communities translate into a political obligation on the state towards non-citizens, just how extensive that obligation may be, and whether other obligations take priority. Nowhere is this more glaring than in the USA today. While the Trump administration has issued executive orders suspending refugee resettlement and accelerating the deportation of undocumented migrants, we note the increasingly prominent role of civic groups militating to protect non-citizens from the enforcement of US immigration law. Though sanctuary groups have long existed, the use of strategic litigation and the introduction of local legislation, in effect creating a firewall between cities and the federal government indicates a new level of conflict. Equally, we note the rapid spread of solidarity movements across Europe, epitomised by call ‘Refugees Welcome’. This paper examines competing claims to protect foreigners, the state and political community. Drawing upon religious, legal, and philosophical discourse from biblical foundations, it seeks to clarify the relationship between the idea of sanctuary and concomitant obligations including the prohibition of refoulement, requirement to assist ships in distress, search and rescue, and the operation of refugee reception, covering temporary protection, asylum, resettlement and return.
Brad K. Blitz received his Ph.D. from Stanford University and is currently Professor of International Politics at Middlesex University London, Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics, and Senior Fellow of the Global Migration Centre in the Graduate Institute, Geneva. A former Jean Monnet Chair he is widely regarded as a leading expert on refugees and stateless persons, migration, human rights and international politics. He has worked extensively in the former Yugoslavia and former Soviet Union and acted as an advisor and consultant to UNDP, UNICEF, OHCHR, the World Bank, OSCE, Council of Europe, DFID, and several NGOs. He has also advised national governments in the Euro-Med region and has appeared as an expert witness advising UK and Australian courts, on asylum and human rights. Recent publications include Statelessness in the European Union: Displaced, Undocumented and Unwanted, Cambridge University Press, 2011; and Statelessness and Citizenship: A Comparative Study on the Benefits of Nationality, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2011. He is also the author of Migration and Freedom: Mobility, Citizenship, and Exclusion, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2014; reissued in 2016 and nominated for three awards. He is currently Principal Investigator for the ESRC-DFID funded EVI-MED project on refugee reception systems in the Mediterranean and the EU Commission project INFORM which seeks to understand how asylum seekers access legal and procedural information. He is a frequent contributor on matters of migration and human rights and is currently the ‘on-call migration expert’ for LBC Radio and Sky News and columnist for the New European.