Resolved: Developed countries have a moral obligation to admit people fleeing oppression (Intro Essay)

Resolved: Developed countries have a moral obligation to admit people fleeing oppression (Intro Essay)

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Introduction and “People fleeing Oppression”

Although the wording is not especially clear to those who do not know a lot about the issue, the NCFL L-D resolution focuses on the question of whether or not developing countries should admit a category of refugees – those refugees who are fleeing oppression, which is ordinarily defined under refugee law to refer to political oppression. Significantly, this resolution does limit the category of refugees to these individuals and does not include, for example, environmental refugees, refugees fleeing war, and, in most instances, refugees fleeing gender and other forms of social violence.

United Nations (UN)-based legal conventions do including those fleeing both persecution and conflict to be refugees.

Jeanne Park, September 23, 2015, Europe’s Migration Crisis,

An asylum seeker is defined as a person fleeing persecution or conflict, and therefore seeking international protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention on the Status of Refugeesrefugee is an asylum seeker whose claim has been approved. However, the UN considers migrants fleeing war or persecution to be refugees, even before they officially receive asylum. (Syrian and Eritrean nationals, for example, enjoy prima facie refugee status.) An economic migrant, by contrast, is person whose primary motivation for leaving his or her home country is economic gain. The term “migrant” is seen as an umbrella term for all three groups. (Said another way: all refugees are migrants, but not all migrants are refugees.))

Although the term “refugee” was broadened to include those fleeing war, it did originally included only those fleeing oppression.

UNHCR, 2019 (“What is a refugee?,”

Refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country. They often have had to flee with little more than the clothes on their back, leaving behind homes, possessions, jobs and loved ones. Refugees are defined and protected in international law. The 1951 Refugee Convention is a key legal document and defines a refugee as: “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Other advocates seek to broaden the definition to include those who environmental refugees and those fleeing social oppression/discrimination, such as women and LGBT individuals.

Sharon Stanton Russell, senior research scholar at the MIT Center for International Studies, 2002 (“Refugees: Risks and Challenges Worldwide,” Migration Policy Institute,

by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have done little to alleviate their plight. The term “internally displaced people” (IDPs) is used in reference to those who may have moved for the same reasons as refugees but have not crossed an international boundary. There is no single agency charged with looking out for IDPs, but upon request, the UNHCR may take responsibility for them, in which case they are included in statistics on “people of concern to UNHCR.” The international legal definition of the term “refugee” also excludes those who move not as a result of persecution, but as a consequence of natural disasters (such as drought, floods, or earthquakes), environmental factors, or famine. They are excluded even though they may need international protection and assistance because their home country cannot or will not provide these things. The terms “forced migrants” or “forced displacement” are used to describe people in these circumstances. Similarly, the term “refugees” also excludes people who move primarily for economic reasons. Even when they are leaving conditions of extreme poverty, they fall under the rubric of “economic migrants.” One final group is “asylum seekers.” These are persons who have arrived in a country seeking to be recognized as refugees. If, when adjudicated, their claim is found to be legitimate, they are granted refugee status. If the circumstances of their movement are judged not to conform to the definition of a refugee, their claim is denied and they become “rejected asylum seekers.”

This is why the wording of the resolution is difficult to manage and a bit tricky.  By focusing on oppression, the resolution excludes those refugees fleeing war, a major category of modern day refugees, but does include those fleeing all sorts of oppression, both political and social, as it doesn’t’ limit the discussion to the types of oppression formally covered under refugee law.

So, yes, this resolution is not worded the best, but it is debatable. There are, however, a few important things to consider.

First, affirmative debaters need to carefully choose what evidence about “refugees” that they are using, as the resolution limits the discussion to those fleeing oppression.

Second, this topic is not about most refugees. Much of the discussion in the recent literature on refugees is about refugees who are fleeing war in places like Syria and Iraq – millions of people. Of course, some of those refugees including individuals who are fleeing oppressive regimes who are trying to kill them, but it is not the majority of refugees. The majority of refugees are simply fleeing war.

Third, “moral obligations” may arguably be different to those fleeing political oppression than those fleeing war, though I haven’t noticed that the literature on the morality of how we should address refugees distinguishes between the two.

Fourth, while these categories are different, all of the arguments are not. For example, the implications for admitting refugees on arguments related to terrorism, economics, international law, environment, and others are going to apply to all different types of refugees.   These will be discussed in more detail in future essays.


“Admit” is another term that is a bit questionable. It does focus the debate on whether or not refugees should come to the developed world rather than be helped where they are, but the weakness is that refugees can be admitted in many different ways.   For example, refugees can be provided with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) under US law and then forced to return when political conditions in their countries of origin stabilize. They could also be granted citizenship in the countries they end up being “admitted” to live in. There are obviously significant differences related to the desirability of each approach, but the resolution isn’t specific to whether or not someone is temporarily or permanently admitted.

Developed Countries

“Developed countries” are generally countries that have achieved high levels of socioeconomic development and are distinguished from countries that have not achieved that level of economic growth and advancement.

Sanja Seljan, University of Zagreb – Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2018 (“What are the differences among developing countries, developed countries and emerging countries?,”

I believe that, generally, there is an agreement for the term developed country – relating to stable economy, highly developed technology, high percent of educated, social security, … Developing countries would be the ones with lower income, less Internet penetration rate, lower percent of educated, lower social security, high population growth, rely more on agricultural products, need financial support,… For the 2018 , the World Bank designated countries with around $1,005 per capita income as low income countries. Emerging countries would be the ones in between – i.e. countries where rapid industrialization happened, relying less on agriculture and with increasing income.

It’s a bit of a judgmental call, but the distinction is common

Dr Rajiv Desai, Mumbai University, 2016 (“Development of Nation,” January 5,

Development is a process where nations achieve higher standards of living, happiness and fulfilment often through economic growth. Development refers to developing countries working their up way up the ladder of economic performance, living standards, sustainability and equality that differentiates them from so-called developed countries. The point at which developing countries become “developed” comes down to a judgment call or statistical line in the sand that is often based on a combination of development indicators. Development is a concept that is difficult to define; it is inevitable that it will also be challenging to construct development taxonomy. Countries are placed into groups to try to better understand their social and economic outcomes. The most widely accepted criterion is labelling countries as either developed or developing countries. There is no generally accepted criterion that explains the rationale of classifying countries according to their level of development. This might be due to the diversity of development outcomes across countries, and the restrictive challenge of adequately classifying every country into two categories.

The resolution calls for these countries, not developed countries such as Lebanon and Turkey (where many of the refugees in the Middle East end up), should accept refugees.

Moral Obligation

Questions of moral obligation are frequently debated in L-D, so I don’t think it is important to spend much time on this rather complicated question. The only thing worth noting here is that since the resolution does focus on moral questions, policy questions are only relevant in as much as they have more implications, including, of course, “the greatest good for the greatest number,” which, in reality ties most of the back in.

Broad Topic Note

This is certainly an interesting and timely topic area. There are millions of refugees all over the world who are fleeing both violence and political oppression. And while the number of refugees is increasing, developed countries, including the United States, are starting to limit the number of refugees they admit. This makes the topic very timely and relatively easy to research.

In the next essay I will address the major Affirmative arguments.






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