Serena Parekh

We’ve made an interview with Serena Parekh, who is an associate professor at Northeastern University. Her latest book was Refugees and the Ethics of Forced Migration



Welcome Serena. Could you introduce yourself to the followers of Bosphorus Migration Studies? What do you do? In which scopes do you make research?

I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Northeastern University in Boston, where I teach courses on social and political philosophy, economic justice, and human rights. My past work has focused on the philosopher Hannah Arendt and more European “continental” political philosophy (as opposed to philosophy coming out of the Rawlsian/Anglo-American tradition). My research has always fon around questions of global justice, human rights, and gender equality.


You wrote a book on the ethics of forced displacement. Do you think is there enough discussion on the dimension of ethics in the current global refugee crisis?

Short answer: no! I worry that we have given in to the seduction of thinking that the refugee crisis is somehow a crisis for Western states and their ability to keep their countries secure, rather than a crisis for the 65 million people who have lost the ability to claim their human rights from a state. If there were a more of a moral focus it would force us to be attentive to the various ways in which refugees struggle for both their basic needs and to protect their dignity. There is much more than we might consider doing to help refugees if this were our focus.


I’d like to mention Kant’s famous explanation on the cosmopolitan right and of course “universal hospitality”. How this explanation relates to our discussion that you’ve raised in the book?

I don’t think we even have to go as far as Kant and believe in a cosmopolitan right or in “universal hospitality” to get a more robust ethical framework for helping refugees. I think that the current way that the international refugee protection regime is structured is, in many ways, harmful to the displaced. All we need to do is to focus on our “negative duty” to avoid harming refugees to see that we need a better way to help refugees while they are awaiting a more permanent solution. Refugee camps and informal urban settlements, where the displaced have little formal political representation or ability to be part of a political community are highly problematic. I do think we have positive duties to resettle refugees, but just a basic application of human decency would be sufficient to allow us to challenge the current status quo around refugee protection.


Could you stay optimistic while thinking upon the crisis. Do you suppose a short-term solution?

Though the current American administration’s executive order on immigration and refugees has been shocking, and in many ways, heartbreaking, it has brought attention to the experience of being a refugee in an unprecedented way. People who may not have really known what a refugee was, are now standing up for the rights of refugees in large numbers. Hopefully, this momentum will continue. That gives me the reason for optimism.


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