University of Michigan Law School Professor James Hathaway outlined an alternative model for international refugee law at a recently held public lecture hosted by Griffith Law School.

Professor Hathaway argues that the current system is unworkable and a new model is needed to share the responsibility of refugees more evenly between frontline states and well-developed countries.

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“Roughly 85% of the world’s refugees are in less developed countries. They tend to be generous about letting people in because often they can’t control their borders,” says Professor Hathaway.

These countries are often on the frontlines of a crisis and struggle with the sheer number of refugees flowing into their country. This puts enormous strain on their capacity and resources.

Professor Hathaway says that this strain has repercussions for the rights of refugees.

“There are many instances where the rights of the refugees are denied for the long haul. People can be detained ad infinitum and they often can’t work or educate their children,” he said.

In the developed world, the opposite tends to happen. Asylum seekers often find it very difficult to seek protection in well-developed countries, but once in are typically given more freedoms says Professor Hathaway.

“Refugee rights are really threatened on both sides of the economic divide,” he says.

According to Professor Hathaway, the current system is incapable of sharing out the financial burdens and responsibility for refugees across frontline countries and well-developed nations.

There is a risk that frontline countries may simply close their borders to refugees if they perceive that they’re not being treated fairly says Professor Hathaway.

“We need a reinvigorated regime run by a UNHCR that is deeply committed to protection and which has the power to equalise burdens and responsibilities around the world so that refugees get the rights they’re entitled to,” he says.