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The right to a future: human rights, armed conflict and mass migration - the Raoul Wallenberg legacy.

Currently there are more than 65.3 million people displaced worldwide (1) of which 21 million have crossed an international border and thus may qualify as refugees under international law. Twenty four people were forced to flee each minute in 2015. The reasons are wars and armed conflict, oppression, climate change and environmental disasters and other causes that may hit the international headlines for a short while only to disappear again in the graveyard of "disaster news," (2) but leaving millions of people in protracted situations of forced displacement. (3) Living in war zones or being caught in an idle refugee situation deprives millions of young persons and others the right to a future.

The international community has to cope with high numbers of forcibly displaced persons now and in coming years. Thus, is there anything in the past that we can use in the present in order to be ready for the future challenges? In the title of this volume, the name Raoul Wallenberg appears and for good reasons since there may be elements of his heroic actions that may inspire today. So, let me provide you with a very short introduction to him and in particular how he relates to the topic of this volume.

Let us head back to the last months of 1944 in Budapest, Hungary. (4) The Second World War is heading toward its end, which came in the spring of 1945. Nonetheless, the final solution to the so-called Jewish problem or "end-ldsung" continues as nothing has changed. In those days around 3-400,000 Jews still lived in the city, but the Nazi and the Hungarian Arrow Cross regimes did all they could to deport as many as possible to the death camps or simply kill them on the spot. Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat working at the Swedish embassy in Budapest. With his incredible humanitarian spirit he wanted to rescue as many Jews as possible from the mass killings. He established the famous "schutz pass" regime, by which the holder was officially protected by the Swedish state and under their protection. He created international protection areas in Budapest. In great danger, he stopped trains deporting Jews to the extermination camps in Poland to ensure that those with schutz pass were not deported. He negotiated with the worst of the worst Nazis and Hungarians all with the aim to save as many lives as possible. To give these people a future.

One particular incident stands out: (5) Raoul Wallenberg has heard about the nightly killings at one of the bridges crossing the Danube in Budapest. The Jews are chained three and three and in each group one is shot and thereafter thrown into the cold winter water in the river. The dead person pulls down the two other who will drown; in that way the perpetrators save ammunition. This went on night after night and was carried out by young, angry Hungarians who hated the Jews. Raoul and his rescue team stood a little ways downstream and jumped into the freezing water and rescued as many as they could--night after night.

He, in collaboration with others, saved around 75-100,000 Jews; however in 1944-5 more than 3-400,000 were deported to Auschwitz "where the SS killed approximately 320,000 of them upon arrival and deployed the rest at forced labor in Auschwitz and other camps." (6) But those that survived never forgot the courage and humanitarian spirit of Raoul Wallenberg. In those days with so much all-encompassing evil, people remember that one person who stood out as a shining example. The person who gave them hope for a better future. When the war was heading toward its end in 1945, Wallenberg was captured by the Soviet army and disappeared in the Soviet prison camps. He was most likely executed in 1948. Only in late 2015 the family initiated the process of declaring him deceased. (7)

So what has Raoul Wallenberg taught us? What he illustrated is what humanism means: the value and agency of each human being. Every life is worth fighting for irrespective of that person's religion, ethnicity or culture. It is illustrated well when he rejected requests from foreign companies to handpick particular people for their businesses. For him, what he did was a humanitarian act respecting the right to life for all. It was the work of persons like Raoul Wallenberg that shaped the thinking and values underpinning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 and the international human rights regime as it has developed thereafter. Individuals who, in the words of Michael Ignatieff, have a "moral imagination" (8) of a better future for all have always driven human rights forward.

How does this apply today with 65 million displaced persons? How does this apply to the situation with the refugees fleeing from Syria? How can the international community contribute to ensuring a future for these refugees?

More than five million people have fled the violence in Syria in the last four to five years. They are predominantly finding protection in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Increasingly, however, they have begun seeking protection elsewhere, in particular in Europe. In 2015, more than 1.2 million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq arrived in European countries, primarily in Germany and Sweden. (9)

Half of the refugees that arrived in Europe, approximately 600,000, are Syrians. Why did the Syrian refugees leave the neighbouring countries, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where they have found shelter from the war in Syria and where they are closer to home? Because if people cannot sustain themselves where they live, it is human nature to move on to a place where they can. During the last three to four years the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ("UNHCR"), World Food Programme and other aid organisations operated on budgets way under what is needed to feed the refugees on a daily basis and give them shelter, let alone the provision of work, education and other elements that could provide them with hope of a future. In Turkey, more than 400,000 Syrian kids are not attending school. (10) These very down to earth and basic needs are what have caused the current crisis for the refugees and the receiving states.

In the human rights world, a lot of efforts have been put into developing early warning mechanisms in relation to major outbreaks of human rights violations or humanitarian catastrophes. Many of these mechanisms were used in calls to governments for assistance to cope with the growing crisis. However, the calls were only partly listened to and not to an extent where it could alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the neighbouring countries to Syria. Early warning mechanisms only play a marginal role if the relevant decision makers are not willing to listen or act on the calls. Everybody saw it coming but simply hoped that it would go away.

So is it a crisis? The refugees look to Europe as a safe haven, a place to seek protection, a region that has built its reputation on people like Raoul Wallenberg. It goes without saying that receiving one million people within one year is not an easy task for any society, but is it impossible? To illustrate the proportions, one could imagine an island with 1,000 rich people living a good life. The neighbouring island is the opposite, namely conflict-ridden. Two persons from that island swim across to the rich island. Can the rich island manage this challenge? Most people would say yes, and that they could probably also take on four to eight persons without losing anything. These are the same proportions when it comes to receiving refugees in the 28 EU Member States: namely, 500 million Europeans receiving one to two million refugees. In Lebanon, for the sake of comparison, the relation is 250:1000.

So why has it created such a crisis? First and foremost, the solidarity between the 28 EU Member States has not been strong enough to facilitate collaboration in addressing the challenge. For some of the Eastern and Central European countries this is a new challenge since they have not previously received refugees and in general, there are very few migrants in these countries. Hungary was one of the first countries to go its own way by setting up barbwire fences to protect its border and pass the refugees to its neighbours. Slovenia, Bulgaria and others followed. (11)

There are two elements worth noting in this regard. First, it has been recalled by many observers in Europe that hundreds of thousands of people from Eastern and Central European countries found protection during the Cold War in Western Europe. In particular, in 1956, 200,000 Hungarians fled to Western Europe. (12) This generosity seems to have been forgotten by many of these states today, as they were the first to put up the fences.

The second point is the Islamophobic reasoning used by the heads of states and key politicians in these countries for not wanting to be part of common solutions. The most dramatic expression of this was in September 2015 when a small group of countries refused to take part in an urgent internal relocation scheme between the 28 Member States. (13) When refusing, they used rather hostile Islamophobic language. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said: "Europe's response is madness" and continued, "[t]hose arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims." "This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity," he continued. (14)

The majority of EU Member States went up against the position of Prime Minister Orban and other heads of states and decided to pass the decision by vote, which is rare on important issues like this. This was an important step in order not to surrender on the core values of the European Union. (15) However this group of countries has continued with their counterproductive agenda and the EU is bruised.

In March 2016, the European Union and Turkey decided to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU and an agreement was made following which any Syrian refugee arriving in Europe from Turkey will be sent back to Turkey as a safe third country. (16) Europe will, for her part, commit to resettle an equivalent number of refugees from Turkey. The goal is to limit the number of refugees to Europe and undermine the business of smuggling refugees. At the same time, the EU and Member States are offering a considerable amount of assistance to Turkey to assist the refugees there as well as in Jordan and Lebanon.

There are however several problematic issues with this arrangement. First are the reports by Amnesty International (17) detailing the illegal practices already taking place of forced returns, including of children, from Turkey to war-torn Syria. These actions are illegal under Turkish, EU and international law. It appears that these refoulements are neither systematic nor are particular groups targeted, it rather appears as acts carried out by local police officers at different places. Nonetheless, there needs to be a certainty that the refugees de facto are protected in Turkey.

Amnesty International also documented the forcible return to Kabul of around 30 Afghan asylum seekers, who were denied access to asylum procedures. (18) These developments support the view that the examination of asylum claims cannot be based on the assumption that Turkey is a safe third country for all refugees. Turkey has granted temporary protection to more than two million Syrians, but Afghans, Iraqis and other nationalities are often unable to access effective protection.

In this regard, the gravest issue is that with the agreement there is a real risk that the border between Syria and Turkey will be sealed off more tightly than it already is. The lesson learned from previous refugee crises is that neighbouring countries normally will accept bearing a considerable burden, receiving refugees from a conflict area if they are assisted materially. However, they will not accept only seeing the glass getting fuller and fuller with no end in sight. Financial support is important but not sufficient. Therefore the refugees either need to have a way out so they can leave on their own account or more organised structures should be put in place. If all doors are closing, the result is often refoulement or closed borders with the result that people are deprived of the right to protection. That was the case with the Vietnamese refugees in South East Asia in the 1970s and again it is the lesson learned when European countries introduced visa restrictions for refugees from Bosnia in the mid-1990s. The Bosnian refugees were deprived of the possibility to move on from Croatia after Croatia closed its borders to the war torn Bosnia. (19) So there is a real risk built into the EU-Turkey arrangement.

Furthermore, an effect of the EU-Turkey agreement may be that people in desperation will do anything to find alternative routes. Europe cannot be sealed off from the world. Some refugees have tried the border between Turkey and Bulgaria but are scared away by extremist groups that voluntarily assist the Bulgarian border police using brutal force, according to refugees in Istanbul. (20) Others are trying to make their way through Libya. The journey from Libya is dangerous and will cost even more lives. The Mediterranean Sea is already the most deadly ocean in the world when it comes to refugees and migrants dying on the run. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) around 3,500 persons died in 2015 in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea; the figures for 2016 to date are 3,207. (21)

On top of that, in Libya, ISIS is controlling the smuggling of humans, so the deal with Turkey may end up indirectly supporting ISIS with this lucrative business. Europol (22) assesses that smugglers have assisted 90% of the refugees that arrived in Europe in 2015 in planning and organising the journey. Further, Europol illustrates how lucrative the business is, estimating that all added up the smugglers earned _ 3-6 billion in 2015.

The current handling of the refugee situation challenges the very essence of refugee protection, namely saving life. It challenges the legacy and spirit of Raoul Wallenberg. Thus, what can be done to live up to human rights and humanitarian standards? Witnessing how the world ignored the many calls from the UNHCR, World Food Programme and others for help for the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, a stronger alertness with regard to early warnings has to be worked on. How can early warning mechanisms be reacted to? What are the channels and methods?

When the crisis has occurred and people need to move to protect their lives, the single most efficient approach from the international community is to create more legal and regular avenues for the persons in need of protection to turn to. When there are legal and regular avenues, lives will be saved and the business of human smugglers will be dramatically reduced.

The legal avenues should already start in the country of origin, taking inspiration from the Raoul Wallenberg schutz pass. Today it could be called a humanitarian visa. Persons who are considering leaving their area of origin to seek asylum should be given reason to visit one of the many embassies worldwide and start the asylum procedure there. If the visa is granted by the embassy, the asylum seeker can fulfill the asylum application in the Member State. Thus, the asylum seeker could travel legally to the EU and avoid the Mediterranean and other smuggling routes. "The thousands of euros each refugee pays to a smuggler could thus be used in a better way." (23)

For obvious reasons it will often not be realistic that a person in need of protection will be able to reach an embassy in the country of origin. The person will have to find a way out of the country and immediate danger by him or herself. Thus, it is from neighbouring countries that serious efforts for resettlement should be explored. In this perspective the agreement with Turkey should have included a proper resettlement scheme. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have stated (24) that the situation can be stabilized if the EU, US and other countries would resettle 480,000 Syrian refugees between 2016-18. In 1979 it took the international community under the leadership of UNHCR two weeks to reach an agreement resettling 250,000 Vietnamese refugees. (25) Thus, it is possible but takes political will and a global commitment. Currently the Syrian refugees have been left for the neighbouring countries and Europe to deal with. The US, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia and many more countries should take responsibility as well.

Countries can also assist by expanding legal avenues such as student and work visas, expanding the family reunification regimes and in many other ways. (26) Each time one person has found a legal or regular avenue, the risk of one more dead person on the Sea has been lowered. Germany and France have used these approaches in relation to the Syrian refugees.

A well thought-out and structured international way of reacting will contribute to a stronger sense of solidarity and control. This is contrary to the dramatic scenes that we witness today with refugees embarking upon deadly journeys or walking in thousands down the highways of Europe with the police as bystanders. The spontaneous arrivals in those numbers create a sense of loss of control and lead to fear. And fear can easily turn into anger and aggression. This is what Europe is faced with, manifested in the increased support for extremist parties.

In many ways the challenge is manageable, however, as was clearly demonstrated when EU Member States discussed the internal relocation scheme. One important barrier is the prevailing Islamophobia in the Western World. It has steadily grown the last 25 years. The language that we have heard from Eastern European heads of states has also been heard from politicians and opinion makers in the US and Canada. The humanitarian spirit of Raoul Wallenberg stresses that a human being is a human being irrespective of colour, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, among others. If a human being is in need of assistance, it should be offered. The current Islamophobia and its impact on everyday decision-making is alarming, and in parts of the Western world it can be compared with that of anti-Semitism in Germany in the early 1930s.

Raoul Wallenberg's heroic deeds were performed 10 years later in 1944-45 trying to save lives as a consequence of what started small but later escalated into madness. The spirit of these deeds is as valid today as back then. We still have to uphold these core values of mankind every single day. After all, it is about ensuring the right to a future for all human beings, no matter who they are.

Morten Kjaerum is the Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Lund, Sweden, and the Chair of the Board of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles. Professor Kjaerum was the first Director of the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency and was the founding Director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

(1.) U.N. High Comm'r for Refugees, Global Trends: Forced Displacement 2015, 2, available at

(2.) While there is no categorical evidence for or against, there is a general observation that the media has a tendency to chase the next dramatic event, thus maintaining a sense of sensationalism and in the process, inadvertently abandoning the medium and long-term consequences of an earlier crisis. Examples of these are the forgotten crises in Northern Uganda or Central Africa, which only get a mention when matters escalate and flare up enough to lure the cameras back in again. The same could be true for less reporting on successful recovery; for example where air time is mostly taken by calamities rather than success stories.

(3.) U.N. High Comm'r for Refugees, World at War: UNHCR Global Trends Forced Displacement in 2014, June 2015, available at "The average duration of the 33 protracted refugee situations" involving people of concern to UNHCR is estimated to last about 25 years. Id. at 11.



(6.) Raoul Wallenberg and the Rescue of Jews in Budapest, HOLOCAUST ENCYCLOPEDIA, (last visited Aug. 23, 2016).

(7.) See CARLBERG AND ANNAN, supra note 4 at 583-95. According to Swedish law a high level of certainty needs to be present in order to declare a person deceased with all its legal consequences. Id. After the end of the Cold War in 1990 a number of persons said that they had seen Raoul Wallenberg in Soviet prison camps as late as in the 1980s, and part of the KGB archives were opened. Id. Due to this and the general uncertainty about his faith, the family only decided to initiate the process of declaring him deceased in 2015. Id.


(9.) See UNHCR. supra note 1.

(10.) "When I Picture My Future, I See Nothing": Barriers to Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Turkey, Summary, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, Nov. 8, 2015, available at https://www.hrw.Org/report/2015/11/08/when-i-picture-my-future-i-see-nothing/ barriers-education-syrian-refugee-children.




(14.) Ian Traynor, Migration Crisis: Hungary PM Says Europe in Grip of Madness, THE GUARDIAN, Sept. 3, 2015.

(15.) Treaty on European Union [TEU, Maastricht Treaty], Feb. 7,1992, at Article 2.

(16.) European Commission, EU-Turkey Agreement: Questions and Answers, European Commission Press Release Database, Mar. 19, 2016, available at EMO-16-963_en.htm.

(17.) Turkey: Illegal Mass Returns of Syrian Refugees Expose Fatal Flaws in EUTurkey Deal, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL (Apr. 1, 2016), turkey-illegal-mass-returns-of-syrian-refugees-expose-fatal-flawsin-eu-turkey-deal/.

(18.) Turkey 'Safe Country' Sham Revealed as Dozens of Afghans Forcibly Returned Hours After EU Refugee Deal, Amnesty International (Mar. 23, 2016),

(19.) @Bosnian Refugees: A Continuing Need for Protection in European Countries, AI Index: EUR 48/05/93, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, JULY 1993 AT 2; JOANNE VAN SELM-THORNBURN, REFUGEE PROTECTION IN EUROPE: LESSONS OF THE YUGOSLAV CRISIS 127-130 (1998).

(20.) AJ+, Refugees 'Hunted' by Vigilantes in Bulgaris, YOUTUBE (Apr. 12, 2016),

(21.) Missing Migrants Project, INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION, (last visited Sept. 12, 2016).

(22.) Migrant Smuggling in the EU, EUROPOL PUBLIC INFORMATION, Feb. 2016, at 2.

(23.) Gregor Noll and Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, Humanitarian Visas Key to Improving Europe's Migration Crisis, RAOUL WALLENBERG INST, OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND HUMANITARIAN LAW (Apr. 2016),

(24.) U.N. High Comm'r for Refugees, UNHCR Report Puts Projected Resettlement Needs in 2017 at 1.19 Million, UNHCR, June 13, 2016, available at http://www, -needs-2017-119-million.html; Peter Foster, UN Chief: World Must Resettle 480,000 Syrian Refugees, THE TELEGRAPH (Mar. 30, 2016), un-chief-world-must-resettle-480000-syrian-refugees/.

(25.) U.N. High Comm'r for Refugees, The State of the World's Refugees 2000: Fifty Years of Humanitarian Action, at 84, Jan. 1, 2000, UNHCR.

(26.) See European Union Fundamental Rights Agency, supra note 11.
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Title Annotation:Symposium on the Refugee Crisis
Author:Kjaerum, Morten
Publication:Suffolk Transnational Law Review
Date:Sep 22, 2016
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