April 23, 2024

Revising Lessons Learnt from the European Migrant/Refugee Crisis for the Ukraine War Today

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By: Kritika Kaushik, Research Analyst, GSDN

Refugees: source Internet

Context: Fast-forward from 2015 to 2023

Exactly 8 years ago in March 2015, the world woke up to a painful photograph of a three-year-old dead child washed ashore on a Turkish beach which was a red flag for the entire world to take collective action to mitigate the refugee crisis. The refugee crisis is not just about a particular region or a country, it is what is plaguing all of humanity. The 2015 refugee crisis also referred to as the ‘European Migrant Crisis’, is rooted in armed conflicts across Western Asia which is also known as the ‘Middle East Region’. Since the onset of the Ukraine war, international observers had been anticipating another human catastrophe similar to the EU Refugee Crisis and the recent development of a shipwreck (February 2023) carrying migrants from countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria caused great concern because even the Ukraine war is painfully producing refugees. The problem cuts deeper as it is not Ukraine or West Asia/Middle East facing a humanitarian catastrophe, but even remote areas like the Sahel (in Burkina Faso) are reeling in armed conflict, especially, which go long back to 2011 and the roots are even older.

A Crisis for the Entire Humanity

Therefore, it is important to see the refugee crisis as a crisis to deal with for the entire humanity and not just a crisis of a particular region like the Sahel, or a specific country like Nigeria or Ukraine or the Democratic Republic of Congo and the responsibility to protect the people is and should be a mutually shared global responsibility. This goes beyond the traditional versions of the R2P (Responsibility to Protect) Doctrine. In 2005, the United Nations adopted the concept of the R2P in order to stop and curb humanitarian crisis and it goes on to say, “sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States from foreign interference, it is a charge of responsibility that holds States accountable for the welfare of their people” (The UN World Humanitarian Summit Rio+23). While taking military action is one way to look at R2P, it is more than just this, because it is also about armed conflict prevention. Owing to the hybrid nature of challenges that the world faces today with crisscross intersectionalities of armed conflict intertwined with gender violence, climate change, child soldiers, forced migration, and economic deprivation, to name a few. A blend of realist power politics, geopolitics and political conflict, insurgency et al are definitely the common ingredients to analyse armed conflicts across the world, however, it is getting enmeshed with such recent complex challenges, which renders older definitions of doctrines like the R2P redundant. The point is not to abandon them, however, to revive them, and reinvigorate them for the sake of tangible peace in the world for the longer run.

The Global South & Multilateral Peace Arrangements

This article, therefore, argues that there is a need to reinvigorate the present multilateral-international institutions by enthusing them by giving an active role to the countries that fall under the category of the ‘Global South’ and what better occasion there could be than G20. However, what makes this article different is how a hybrid shift from the conventional ‘level of analysis’ in International Relations is done to facilitate understanding of how we need to revise the lessons learnt from the EU Refugee Crisis 2015 to at least manage ongoing conflicts and prevent a humanitarian crisis like the one described just now.

The Level of Analysis: As per recent academic scholarship (Gebhard: 2022), there are 4 levels of analysis in order to understand the current & past happenings of the world. For instance, ‘the system level’ (which comprises the entire global system in its entirety and looks at issues like the distribution of political power, economic system, international law and international organisations and the diffusion of technology); the second level is the ‘the state level’ that includes nation-states as actors in the international arena; the third is ‘the group level’ including political parties, non-governmental organisations and interest groups acting at the intersection between governments and societies; and at the bottom comes the “individual level” wherein the behaviour of and decisions people in organisations both governmental and non-governmental are analysed. Perhaps the above hierarchy needs a levelling wherein all four need to be seen horizontally in an equal manner while definitely giving making the nation-states and the international law framework at the centre stage in order to enforce State obligations and commitments to meet humanitarian catastrophes.

India’s Foreign Policy & ‘Preventive Diplomacy’

It is interesting to note that India is a signatory to the UN Child Rights Convention and ratified the treaty in domestic law arrangements long back in December 1992. As India is at the helm of the G20 Presidency today, strengthening the bulwark of India’s Foreign Policy and strategic autonomy, it is important to note that peacekeeping and peacebuilding have been one of the biggest hallmarks of Indian Foreign Policy and this article argues that the same metal of India as a peace builder can reinvigorate multilateral and intergovernmental agencies like the UN in a manner that State Parties deliver on their national obligations and implement statutes. When India abstains from any UN Resolution either in favour of Ukraine or against Russia in the case of the Russia-Ukraine war, it is not a sign of weakness, however, a sign of diplomatic brilliance and creativity wherein while we are fine-tuning our strategic tightrope for a balanced foreign policy stance to maintain an independent foreign policy stance, we as a country are also contributing towards ‘preventive diplomacy’ which refers to actions and efforts taken to present disputes that may arise between State Parties and/or other actors, ‘to prevent existing disputes from escalating into conflicts and to limit the spread of the latter when they occur’.

Therefore, it is time to strengthen the narrative that the Global South must be at the centre stage or must be given the centre stage in a way that countries like India can democratise the multi-lateral institutions. India’s diplomacy has been based on a solid balance of peace-making and pragmatism. In fact, it was in 2007, that India became the first country to send an all-India female peacekeeping unit on a foreign mission, which demonstrates the unique approach India has always taken in the international arena. Humanitarian intervention, either done by any of the major world powers have had both positive as well as debilitating impact on civilians and countries, therefore, the point is to strengthen and democratise the institutions like the UNHCR, UN Security Council etc as well as to revive statutes of the International Law and in the case of the refugee crisis and children, UN Conventions like the Child Rights Convention (UNCRC 1989) and its Optional Protocol No. II (2002) relating to the prohibition of children in the direct involvement of children in armed conflict; the International Humanitarian Law, the International Refugee Law et al because International Law must be seen as a coherent system and to bring this coherent brilliance in play, it is important that we see International Relations and International Law and its overarching philosophy in harmony because it is based on the very same moral foundations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1984 that human dignity is the basic principle and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the ‘human family’. This universal and moral consensus was achieved by the world following the Nuremberg Trials after World War II and there was widespread agreement that ‘barbarous acts’ against humanity were committed which led to the establishment of the Roosevelt Commission headed by Eleanor Roosevelt which was based on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous speech on four freedoms of human beings – freedom of expression, belief, want and freedom from fear.

Such a moral grounding along with reviving multilateral, international arrangements and legal regimes to strengthen the refugee cause by putting the Global South at the centre stage is the need of the hour today and for the days to come.

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