Lost at Sea: The Rule of Law in the Migration Crisis

By Lyndsey Raynor
Outreach Associate, Outreach and Communications

At the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), the topic of refugees and migrants has been trending lately. With 65 million people on the move, according to the International Organization for Migration the world is seeing the largest migration of people since World War II. Almost every part of the planet has been impacted by this movement and our country’s closest allies are facing some of the hardest challenges in six decades. With such a large number of people on the move, this crisis deserves a thoughtful response from global policymakers.

To help soften the impact of the U.S.’ decision to sidestep the negotiations of the two global compacts to address refugees and migrants, ABA ROLI centered its annual conference around migration. On April 17, “When People Flee: Rule of Law and Forced Migration” convened scholars, rule of law professionals, lawyers, U.S. government representatives, and more to craft recommendations designed to help inform compact deliberations.

ABA ROLI has been working with refugees and migrants since early 2014. In Turkey, ABA ROLI has worked with local bar associations to train more than 200 lawyers, and equip them with special techniques to help Syrian refugees in Turkey. In Armenia, ABA ROLI provides free legal support to displaced persons through local Refugee Legal Assistance Centers, by helping migrants access immediate resettlement needs to build successful lives in their new home.

Because this topic has been a constant conversation at work, I recently attended a subcommittee hearing for the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats. With the objective of providing members with the opportunity to better understand European immigration policies and the future of Europe, the hearing brought together a dynamic group of people to testify. I knew the conversation was bound to be confrontational, but I noticed that whenever one person spewed out a fact on refugees being terrorists or causing more violence in Europe, 10 minutes later another panelist would counter-argue that same statistic. Thus, proving the amount of misinformation that surrounds this issue of migration. My one thought upon leaving: The rule of law in all of our countries is at stake. I was amazed at how the members of the committee were more focused on U.S. policies and problems, rather than discussing the topic of the hearing. America is struggling to address the migration crisis within our own borders, so much that it’s impossible to turn the attention all the way to the East. We must find a solution to help resolve the issues in the U.S. while also supporting our allies in Europe and Eurasia to do the same. We must come together as one.

The U.S. has an obligation to help our allies in Europe and Eurasia. We must work to uphold the rule of law in our own homes, communities, and country, while supporting and encouraging others to do the same. As families are separated and refugees are turned away at borders, the dream of a better life is quickly swept away; all because of a fear that these groups will bring terror and violence into their new countries. What a majority of these people are searching for is peace; a refuge from all of the horror that has disrupted their lives. They are searching for the same fundamental freedoms that most American and European citizens are privileged to have including freedom of religion, good governance, basic human rights, a free democracy, and most of all happiness and peace. Isn’t every human entitled to those sorts of rights and freedoms?

It was a grave mistake for the U.S. to pull out of direct negotiations in regards to the compacts. If we are to view ourselves as a leader of this world, we need to be at the forefront of these decisions and not on the sidelines. Both the U.S. and our European allies need to better address the current situation at home, as it is not one that will be solved tomorrow. Integration and tolerance is key and should be encouraged in all parts of the world. The values we teach our next generations is just as important as funding for our foreign allies. The values of the rule of law, good governance, and free democracies, can only help in the long run if sustained by the countries and people that hold them dear. The same values that 65 million people are currently searching for in a new home.

Lyndsey Raynor is an outreach associate for the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative’s Outreach and Communications Office.

To learn more about our work with refugees and migrants, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABA ROLI.