The political rights of refugees and asylum-seekers in the EU

Ali Emre Benli

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The refugee regime in the European Union (EU) is established to enable member states to collectively discharge their individual obligations recognized by the 1951 Refugee Convention and human rights norms. It governs the admission of refugees, the allocation of rights, and the distribution of member state responsibilities within the EU. Asylum-seekers and refugees, nevertheless, lack any formal standing to participate in the decision-making mechanisms of the EU. While they are devoid of political rights of representation, such as the right to vote and stand in elections, freedoms of expression, assembly, and association are limited by security and stability concerns of the host states.

In this project I argue that a major discrepancy exists between the political standing of asylum-seekers and refugees, on the one hand, and the commitments to democracy and human rights in Europe, on the other. The discrepancy has been overlooked in recent debates on the ethics of refugee policy that have rather focused on basic socio-economic rights and access to full citizenship rights in a host state. The main question is: Which political rights must asylum-seekers and refugees enjoy in the EU? Two further questions then follow: What grounds are there for extending political rights to asylum-seekers and refugees? Which novel institutions should be implemented for sustaining such rights? To answer these questions, the project considers the idea of a non-territorial Refugee Community in Europe.

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