Tuesday, October 6, 2015

PF Nov 2015 - Prioritizing Humanitarian Needs over National Interests - Pro

Resolved: In response to the current crisis, a government should prioritize the humanitarian needs of refugees over its national interests.

For the start of this analysis, click here.

Pro Position

When considering the Pro position of the resolution we need to deal with the fact there is no firm definition which constrains the responsibility of providing for humanitarian needs. Pro needs to avoid the possibly of linking to scenarios which could lead to economic disaster for the host country if it were to be responsible for providing a wide-range of costly services for refugees. Having said that, I can isolate three positions for the Pro. One or more of these positions can be combined into a case for the Pro.

First, nothing in the resolution says the host government must provide any services but certainly it must take some actions to satisfy the topic and that can be as simple as prioritizing opportunities which make it easier for refugees to have their needs met.  From a strictly pragmatic point of view, the government in question can meet the topicality requirements of the resolution by taking a variety of alternative actions which signal it is adhering to a policy of placing greater importance on the refugee crisis than other national interests.  This can include, taking steps to end the conflicts in the region from which the refugees are fleeing, encouraging or incentivizing other countries to provide services for the refugees, or shifting priorities so as to remove barriers which may be impeding others from providing more direct services for refugees.

Second, Pro teams could decide to specify a government should provide a minimal standard of services to sustain humanitarian needs should "refugees" land at their front door. I place the word refugee in quotes because under some definitions, a refugee is an asylum-seeker who's request for asylum has been accepted. Which basically means the host country has already decided to allow the asylee into the country. However, in the current crisis, we can use the words interchangeably since those currently fleeing are "prima facie" refugees.

UNHCR 2015:
During mass movements of refugees (usually as a result of conflicts or generalized violence as opposed to individual persecution), there is not - and never will be - a capacity to conduct individual asylum interviews for everyone who has crossed the border. Nor is it usually necessary, since in such circumstances it is generally evident why they have fled. As a result, such groups are often declared "prima facie" refugees.

Therefore, for the balance of these analyses, I will use the term refugees to designate the mass flow of individuals fleeing their homelands, whether their requests for asylum have been accepted or not. 

Providing basic sustenance and services conducive to a reasonable standard of dignity is not out of the question for those fleeing their homelands. It only requires the Pro to defend a definition of humanitarian needs and chances are they will be topical as long as serving national interests are not a barrier to meeting the definition of humanitarian needs. I doubt anyone thinks nations have obligations to fully integrate refugees into host nations culture.  The expectation is the conditions which drove the refugee from home will eventually end and repatriation is possible should the refugee desire.

Third, the Pro teams could erect a kind of deontological framework which permits arguments which claim, people and thus by extension, their governments, have a duty or obligation to provide humanitarian relief for refugees based upon appropriate moral or ethical principles of right and wrong. While these kinds of arguments are sometimes easier in Lincoln Douglas debate, they are fair ground in PF and justify cases which appeal more to pathos.  Taking this approach can be very powerful with citizen (or any) judges exposed over the last few months to the horrific images of struggle encountered by refugees fleeing their homelands. But we can choose to present this duty to assist as an ethical responsibility to uphold human rights rather than relying solely on appeals to emotion.

Finally, I think it is important, especially for the benefit of your judges, to make a very precise distinction between refugees and migrants.  Generally speaking, refugees are fleeing persecution or death threats mainly due to identification with certain ethnic, political, religious or social groups, often fleeing with the clothes on their backs or only with what little they can carry and do not know when or if they may ever return to their homelands.  Migrants are those who are usually seeking better opportunities, usually plan their travels sufficiently to figure where they are going, and take as many of their belongings as possible, and travel costs, notwithstanding, are free to return home if desired. This is important, because migrants and refugees often travel together and the mixed status of individuals seeking entry into a country complicates the issue. 

UN (no date):
Although moving for different reasons, migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees and other groups increasingly make use of the same routes and means of transport to get to an overseas destination. If people composing these mixed flows are unable to enter a particular state legally, they may employ the services of human smugglers and embark on dangerous sea or land voyages, which many do not survive. UNHCR recognizes the sovereign right of governments to control their borders and ensure their national security, and many states have adopted measures aimed at preventing people without proper documents from entering their territory. However, if applied indiscriminately, those same measures can also create obstacles for refugees and asylum-seekers in genuine need of international protection. While refugees and asylum-seekers account for only a small proportion of the estimated 200 million people on the move in the world today, they are finding it ever more difficult to gain access to countries where they can seek protection.

Minimal standards

Most western nations have procedures for dealing with asylum-seekers. They have signed international treaties in accordance with guidelines established by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.  There are guidelines for treatment including the all important precept of non-refoulement, which basically means the refuges should not be forced to return to the place from which they have fled.  Under the various agreements, each treaty nation has committed to accept a certain number of refugees.  However, because of the protracted nature of the War in Syria, the spread of the Islamic State throughout the middle east and northern Africa, and because of extreme religious persecution, bordering on outright genocide, an enormous mass of people are on the move seeking asylum and overwhelming the abilities of other nations to accept them.  Under ideal conditions, the host nation will expect to detain the asylum-seeker since most arrive without any form of documentation to verify their status.  Nations are not obligated to accept, criminals, affiliates of terrorist groups, or migrants who are merely seeking a better life.  It is for this reason, asylum-seekers are placed into detention prior to being assimilated.

To provide a guideline for minimal standards of life for refugees we can start by looking to a section of the training Manual for Human Rights Monitoring. Often asylum-seekers are settled into detention camps until their status can be verified by the host government. In these cases, guidelines are published which provide some guidance as to minimal levels of assistance for meeting needs.

The arrival and establishment of refugees and IDPs in camps should thus, ideally, represent an improvement upon the situation which they have fled. Camps should offer some sort of security against the threat of further human rights violations. They should also offer an environment in which the most basic requirements of life — food, water, shelter, care and affection (particularly for children) — can be provided. There are, however, many different factors which determine the extent to which camps provide a positive environment for the respect of human rights.[3]
As the manual points out, beyond basic needs, the conditions for camp residents can vary widely due to many situations such as the number of those encamped, the resources available locally, the location, and the expectations of those being held. The UN also establishes guidelines in accordance with international law and basic human rights. The guidelines include, medical treatment, allowance for contact by outsiders, physical exercise, freedom to practice religion, basic necessities (clothes, beds, etc), food, sources for information, educational opportunities and a mechanism to register complaints.[UNHCR 2012, 30-31]

NGOs and Government Support

While there are, no doubt, costs borne by a nation which has agreed to accept refugees, the role of Non-Government Organizations (NGO) is an important factor in mitigating costs for the day-to-day care of potential refugees. Organizations such as the International Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, and multitudes of charitable organization help provide basic provisions, medical services, and general relief for refugees. Additionally, many human rights groups monitor and advocate for the well-being of refugees. Consider the following report from one such NGO called JEN operating in many areas around the globe including Jordan.

Following the uprising that began in Tunisia on December 18, 2010, a civil protest broke out in southern Daraa in Syria in March 2011 and escalated into armed fights. Surging violence threatened the lives of citizens and kept producing huge numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees for several months. As of January 2015, about 3.8 million Syrian refugees have fled their country and about 7 million people are internally displaced. The number of people in need of help has reached roughly 12 million. Jordan, one of the major recipient countries, has about 620,000 Syrian refugees.

JEN, receives financing from corporate donors, and crowd-funding sources which enables them to provide a reasonable level of care for Syrian refugees in Jordan.

The difference in culture between People from Jordan and People from Syria is evident in the drastically different way they use water. Moreover, due to the increase in number of refugees, it is getting difficult to provide water equally to all the residents in the camp. In order not to cause feelings of unfairness and discontent amongst refugees, improvement of water situation is a pressing issue. As the length of stay for many of those living in the refugee camps is getting prolonged, JEN has begun building a water supply network located in a camp area that works as an organizing body of water and hygiene related activities. We are working alongside other NGOs and international organizations with the goal of providing safe and stable water supply for the refugees. In addition, as a way of supporting the Water and Sanitation Committee run mainly by the residents, JEN repairs water sanitation facilities, which the committee itself cannot tackle due to its tight budget and lack of technology.
The arrival of refugees strains the budgets of some nations which are hard-pressed to provide needed services.  NGOs often fill the gap.  Besides, corporate sponsors, NGOs are supported by governments such as the U.S. Some governments which do not have good relations with other governments can still support refugees through support of NGOs.  Governmental sponsorship of NGOs providing services for refugees is a good example of how nations can prioritize humanitarian needs over national interests in support of the refugee crisis.

Richard 2014:
The State Department and USAID are major funders of the top humanitarian organizations responding to the crisis in Syria and the region, providing over $1.3 billion in assistance to date. In an attachment to this testimony, I provide a summary of the multi-faceted response that has been mounted by UN agencies and NGOs working with U.S. support, including the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the World Food Program (WFP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Together, these agencies and others are providing food, clean water, shelter, medical care and other basic essentials. They also go beyond these basic needs and seek to protect the most vulnerable members of Syrian society today – displaced children, at-risk women and girls, the elderly and the disabled – from threats as diverse as cold winters, unsafe play areas, poor sanitation, child marriage and violence against women and girls.

Continuing, we see the magnitude of support a country like the U.S. can provide over an above accepting refugees -

Richard 2014:
Since 2012, the United States has provided $300 million in bilateral budget support to the Government of Jordan, on top of our annual budget support, specifically to offset spending Jordan has devoted to hosting refugees from Syria. We have also provided over $30 million to help alleviate strains on the water and education systems. USAID has built five new schools in northern Jordan and is expanding 67 existing schools. It is also supporting a water program focused on water collection, storage, conservation and the repair of water pipelines in communities in northern Jordan hosting a large number of refugees. New programs have also been launched to help community members, parents and schools cope with tensions between Syrians and Jordanians. WFP vouchers are used by refugees to buy food from merchants, thus providing another benefit directly to local people. The United States also provided a $1.25 billion sovereign loan guarantee to help Jordan respond to external pressures, like the Syria crisis, while it continues its economic reform program.The United States has provided more than $96 million through international organizations and NGOs to support the Government of Turkey in its humanitarian response. Our assistance has funded tents, blankets, cash cards for food, cook stoves, schools, education supplies, teacher training, technical assistance and more. We have provided $70 million for programs to help refugees in Iraq, and I was in Erbil in mid-December when UN relief flights began to operate between that Iraqi city and Quamishly in Northern Syria.

The Framework

In a world with well over one million men, women and children fleeing war and persecution, risking their lives to escape the world cannot ignore the scope of the disaster playing out on the evening news in North America, far from the conflict. We are witnessing a disaster of epic proportions and as with earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and other events, it is time to forget politics and budgets and do the right thing to alleviate suffering.  And so we establish a standard for the Public Forum debate judge, claiming there are times when human lives out-weigh the cost-benefit analysis. There are times when the urgency of millions on the brink of disaster out-weighs low probability risks to security.

Van Arsdale & Nockets (2008):
Humanitarianism, as we define it, involves “crossing a boundary” to help a person in need. The boundary can be economic, cultural, ethnic, psycho-social, or geopolitical, but a metaphorical “stretch” is mandated. The humanitarian herself may be at risk. Whereas some analysts view “boundary crossing” as negative, we see it as positive; the overall notion of sovereignty still is respected. Humanitarianism suggests an understanding of principles associated with the use of scare resources in which a moral imperative is implied. Risk to both service provider and beneficiary is involved. An understanding of human rights is mandated.

The duty to assist is not a question of fairness in the sense it is a shared responsibility.  Each nation should look inward and consider its own response, not the responses of others.

Green 2015:
Consider an analogy. Any swimmer able to help has a moral duty to save a drowning child. He may not look around the pool to see whether the rescue would be less of a hassle to someone else, and he may not let one child drown on the ground that he already saved one yesterday. If he can effectively help, he must. Coordination among refugee-accepting countries is often required—but by effectiveness, not fairness. What matters is getting refugees settled, not how the costs of doing so are distributed (except, of course, where that is instrumental to getting more people resettled quickly).
And Shibbaz makes a link between the humanitarian ideals of human worth and refugee camps which serves as real-world expressions of those ideals.

Shibbaz 2007:
Aside from the practical reasons for refugee camps as outlined above, one can take one step back and examine the underlying reason for refugee camps as such. Refugee camps, to recap, are intended to provide protection for peoples who fear persecution, most notably in the cases of civil war or genocide in their home country. The question now remains, however, is why the international community, the UNHCR and other NGOs in this case, seek to help people who have had to face extreme hardship in their home country. At the core, refugee camps are a form of humanitarian action, that is, a practical realization of an ideology whereby people perform humane treatment and provide assistance to others. Humanitarianism is based on the idea that all humans have equal value and accordingly, they should be treated with respect and dignity. Refugee camps in this light, are then based on the concept of humanitarianism which is, in turn, based on providing assistance to those who need it.

Shibbaz examining the issue of humanitarian assistance more fully, cites Kant's Categorical Imperative and noting as one author claims, "to live a life without human rights is to live a life unworthy of a human being" [Shibbaz, 2007: 19].

Hugo Slim also invokes Kant's Categorical Imperative and strongly argues for a humanitarian imperative which is over-arching to all circumstances relevant to political expediency.

Slim 2012:
Kant’s idea of duty determines that something is always good to do regardless of any conditions. These imperatives are supreme moral principles that make for absolute duties and obvious “oughts.” Their goodness is not dependent on their outcomes. This is moral thinking governed by a categorical “must,” not a hypothetical “if.” Operating on categorical imperatives means that I do something because it is always good, not because I think that if I do it then good may come. Kant sums up the difference:
 "Now all imperatives command either hypothetically or categorically. The former represent the practical necessity of a possible action as a means for attaining something else that one wants (or may possibly want). The categorical imperative would be one which represented an action as objectively necessary in itself, without reference to another end."
From this brief encounter with Kant, it is fairly obvious how international NGOs who have signed up to these three documents understand humanitarian values today. They claim clearly that being humanitarian is a categorical imperative. It is an end in itself. It is an unconditioned “ought” and must never be subject to conditions. There are no “ifs” in the humanitarian imperative. From this moral reasoning flows the idea of humanitarian duties that always exist regardless of circumstances or of aspirations around other competing moral ends. In other words, a Kantian humanitarian would have a lot of problems with the suspension of a humanitarian program as a hypothetical means to leverage a good political outcome on democracy or women’s rights. Equally, in the context of the new “war on terrorism,” an imperative humanitarian would also find grave moral flaws in any strategy that stopped or compromised humanitarian action on the basis of some wider hypothetical arguments about counterterrorism benefits. 

Hugo Slim's approach to the issue de-emphasizes the idea the moral obligation to assist persons isndire need is driven by pity and as I interpret him, the gut-wrenching imagery of a deceased refugee child on a European beach. My interpretation of Slim's view, is one of human rights as a supreme value and the understanding by virtue of our mutual humanity we are entitled to rights and to have those rights respected. It is worth reiterating, a life without rights denies one's humanness which is a tragedy we must address if we value our own human worth.


Green, L (2015, The Refugee Crisis is not about Fairness, accessed 10/5/2015 at:

JEN, 2012, Jordan - JEN recognizes the needs in the field and builds and maintains self-reliance, accessed 10/4/2015 at:

OHCHR (2001), Training Manual on Human Rights Monitoring, Chapter 10, United Nations, 2001, accessed 10/3/2015 at:

Richard, AC (2014) The Syrian Refugee Crisis, Washington D.C., Jan 7, 2014, accessed 10/4/2015 at: http://www.state.gov/j/prm/releases/remarks/2014/219388.htm

Shibbaz, K (2007), Failure of Refugee camps: Humanitarian Ideals or Faulty Policies?, Central European University, accessed 10/5/2015 at:

Slim, H (2012), Claiming a Humanitarian Imperative NGOs and the Cultivation of Humanitarian Duty
Hugo Slim, online at www.humanitarianleaders.org, accessed 10/5/2015 at: http://www.humanitarianleaders.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/4.-Claiming-a-Humanitarian-Imperative.pdf

UN (United Nations), Refugees, Overview of forced isplacement, accessed 10/3/2015 at:

UNHCR (2012), Detention Guidelines, Guidelines on the Applicable Criteria and Standards relating to the Detention of Asylum-Seekers and Alternatives to Detention
UNHCR (2015), United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Asylum-Seekers, accesse 10/3/2015 at:

Van Arsdale, PW & Nockerts, RA (2008), A Theory of Obligation, The Journal of Humanitarian Assitance, May 12, 2008, accessed 10/5/2015 at:


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