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Migration Ethics

Project description

Ethics on refugee and migrant distinction

The arrival of millions of refugees and migrants to Europe in recent years and the attempt of countless others to reach Europe resulted in a high death toll. An agreement between the EU and Turkey permitted the return of a considerable number of migrants to Turkey. The EU distinguished between refugees and migrants as refugees are considered eligible for protection. The EU-funded Migration Ethics project will study the criteria used to select migrants eligible for protection. It will also examine how migrants are excluded from protection and determine whether this is ethically and legally acceptable.


Over the last three years, millions have attempted to cross the EU frontier. Some are fleeing war and persecution; others poverty. The EU has struggled to find an acceptable response. It is aware that the denial of legal entry encourages risky crossings and that many of those migrating are refugees. Yet it is also keen to limit immigration. It has therefore responded by insisting on a sharp distinction between refugees and economic migrants, making some exceptions for the former, while seeking to exclude the latter. It has also obtained an agreement with Turkey that permits the EU to return migrants in exchange for various benefits. This response seems to have been effective in limiting migration along the Turkey-Greece route. Nevertheless, the large numbers migrating along other routes, the lack of sufficient protection for many refugees and the high death toll at sea, all cast doubt on the adequacy of the EU response. This research project will be the first within ethical theory to address the ethics of migration in the context of the Mediterranean crisis. It will assess how EU states should respond to such large waves of migration. It focusses on three questions. First, which migrants are entitled to protection? International law and EU policy single out refugees, but the research project will investigate whether states have duties towards other migrants as well. Second, of those who are entitled to protection, where should they be protected? The EU-Turkey agreement effectively involves the outsourcing of protection to Turkey. Such “safe third country” agreements are ethically controversial. Third, if it is permissible to exclude some migrants, how should they be excluded? Given the numbers that are currently dying while trying to evade migration restrictions, it is important to explore the various methods of restriction to see which, if any, are ethically defensible and, given the current regulatory framework, legally feasible.


Net EU contribution
€ 172 932,48
08002 Barcelona

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Este Cataluña Barcelona
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 172 932,48