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Migration Ethics

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Migration Ethics (Migration Ethics)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2021-09-30

The project investigated how states should respond when large numbers of people in severe need seek to migrate. States need to decide whom they protect. International law and EU policy singles out refugees, but arguably states have duties towards all migrants in need. States must decide where to protect. Sometimes it is argued that, rather than providing asylum, states can send migrants to safe third countries or intervene in the country of origin against the threats that people are fleeing. Finally, if states are to enforce immigration restrictions, they must decide how to exclude. Given the large numbers of people dying at borders, we need to investigate the means by which states enforce borders and their ethical ramifications.

This research project pursued these questions. To this end, it set the following objectives: to (1) produce at least four publications developing new lines of research, (2) host workshops discussing the themes of the project and (3) disseminate research to a wider audience through various outreach activities including presentations, media articles and a podcast. The project was hosted by the University of Pompeu Fabra under the supervision of Paula Casal.
1. Publications. The project produced four peer-reviewed publications:
(i) “Border Rescue”, in The Political Philosophy of Refuge, eds David Miller and Christine Straehle, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).
(ii) “Refugee Discrimination – The Good, the Bad, and the Pragmatic”, Journal of Applied Philosophy, 37/5 (2020).
(iii) “Killing and Rescuing: Why Necessity Must be Rethought”, The Philosophical Review, 129/3, (2020).
(iv) “Freedom and Viruses”, Ethics, (forthcoming).

2. Book proposal. The project completed a proposal for a book on migration ethics. The book, entitled “Immigration is a Human Right”, is now under contract with Oxford University Press (OUP).

3. Working paper. The Principal Investigator (PI) and another Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action fellow, Tom Parr (Warwick) co-authored a working paper on “Immigration and Automation”.

4. Book symposium. The project produced a book symposium on Valeria Ottonelli and Tiziana Torresi’s forthcoming book The Right Not to Stay. The symposium will be published in the journal Law, Ethics and Philosophy in 2022.

5. Presentations. The project yielded seven conference presentations (University College London; the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace; University of Leeds; University of Essex; the University of Toronto; Hong Kong University; University of Pompeu Fabra,).

6. ‘Mini’ Research Seminar. The project gave three ‘mini’ research seminars on migration ethics to students at Edinburgh, LMU Munich and Rhodes.

7. The “Migration Ethics Workshop” series. The project hosted a series of six workshops for junior scholars in the field.

8. Workshop on “Migration, Force and Violence”. The workshop invited various experts to discuss the project’s research themes around forced migration, refuge, and border enforcement. The workshop was held across two days, May 20-21, 2022.

9. Media Articles. The project produced two media articles:
(i) “COVID-19 Prisoner Releases are not a Matter of Mercy, but of Justice”, World Economic Forum, April 27, 2020. Available at
(ii) “Who is to Blame for Migrant Deaths?”, the Institute for Art and Ideas, December 3, 2021. Available at

10. Podcast. The project started the world’s first podcast devoted to the ethics of migration policy. The podcast can be accessed on Spotify, among other leading podcast platforms:

11. Website. The project published a website displaying the project’s research, workshops, and outreach activities:
The research project made important advances relative to the state of the art. The first publication, “Border Rescue”, explores state responsibility towards endangered migrants. In so doing, it pursues the project's sub-questions concerning who is owed protection, where protection should be offered and the ethical implications of border enforcement. The chapter argues that receiving states are partially responsible for border deaths. The issue addressed is of clear ethical importance and yet it remains surprisingly under-researched within the migration ethics literature. The chapter is one of the first within the sub-discipline to attend to the issue.

The second publication, “Refugee Discrimination: The Good, the Bad and the Pragmatic”, explores another under researched topic: discrimination in refugee policy. The article investigates the ways by which states currently select refugees. It finds that the refugee regime itself has the effect of privileging certain migrants, the young and mobile, over those less able. The article argues for an overhaul of the refugee regime. The article is an important intervention in migration ethics. Migration ethics has, for a long time, focussed on the question of how many refugees receiving states should protect. Insufficient attention has been paid to the question of refugee selection. The article pursues this question, moreover, by drawing on the philosophical literature on discrimination, thus bringing two literatures into conversation.

The third publication, “Killing and Rescuing: The Case for Revising Necessity”, attends to the question of where receiving states should offer protection. It is sometimes argued that instead of offering asylum, receiving states should engage in armed intervention to protect people against the threats they are fleeing. This article critiques this argument. Armed intervention involves lethal force and lethal force is subject to a necessity condition. One can only justify killing people when it is necessary to achieve the goal in question. The article argues that often the best description of the goal of armed interventions will be something broad such as “protecting human lives”, rather than a standard description such as protecting a particular group from a particular threat. If we adopt a broad description, we are more likely to find peaceful alternatives. In short, the article advances beyond the state of the art by challenging the standard view of necessity. In so doing, it makes an important contribution to debates over how states should assist people in need such as refugees.

The fourth publication, “Freedom and Viruses” addresses a topic not originally foreseen in the project proposal (submitted pre-pandemic): the ethics of restricting free movement for the sake of disease control. The Covid 19 pandemic led to new and severe restrictions on free movement all over the world. Not only was international migration subject to restriction, but internal migration was as well. The resulting article argues that, when assessing the restrictions that disease control places on free movement, we need to consider what the concept of “freedom” means. The article is the first within philosophy to look at the concept of freedom within the context of the pandemic. As such, it represents an important contribution to the philosophical study of disease control and its relation to migration.
Artist: Raphael Perez. Creative commons.
Photographer: Jim Forest. Creative commons.