The humanitarian visa – in search of an asylum policy that respects human dignity

May 09, 2018

For many years people fleeing from war zones and crisis areas have looked to Europe in search of refuge. But because an application for asylum can only be filed in person within the territory of an EU member state, thousands of individuals embark on dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean or the Balkans. One possibility that could enable a less risky passage to Europe would be to issue humanitarian visas. What would the humanitarian visa mean in practice and does it offer a meaningful alternative to current EU asylum and migration policy? This question is the topic of a conference entitled “Humanitarian visas and the external dimension of the EU migration and asylum policy,” which will take place on 17 and 18 May at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. The conference is being jointly organized by the Institute’s Department ‘Law and Anthropology’ and the Faculty of Law, Economics and Business at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. The conference will be held in English.

There are no simple solutions
At present, migration to Europe is characterized by extreme inequality on a number of different levels. On the one hand, many people who have good cause to seek protection never even have a chance to have their asylum claims reviewed because they do not have sufficient money to pay a smuggler to transport them or because their poor physical condition means that they cannot undertake such a dangerous journey. On the other hand, countries such as Greece and Italy are much more heavily affected by the waves of migration due to their geographical location. “This situation – the arbitrary selection of only those people who are able to flee and the overburdening of southern European countries that has been going on for years – cannot be accepted in the long run,” says Prof. Dr. Marie-Claire Foblets, Director of the Department ‘Law and Anthropology’ and co-organizer of the conference. “But there is no simple solution to this problem. Whether an option like issuing humanitarian visas would be a helpful and feasible step towards a better solution is a question that we want to discuss together with international experts at this conference.”

The legal basis for humanitarian visas
The idea of the humanitarian visa is really very simple: people who can demonstrate that they are subject to persecution as defined in international refugee law can go to European embassies anywhere in the world, where they may be granted an entry visa for that country. Such a visa would ensure a legal and safe journey to Europe; after arrival, the application for asylum could be filed. “But there are many details to be considered when implementing this in practice,” Marie-Claire Foblets notes. “Thus, we are initially interested in analysing whether and how the laws of the EU and its member states allow for the protection of migrants who are located outside of Europe.” By examining the legal systems of several European nations, the conference participants will thus also discuss what possibilities are offered by national laws for issuing humanitarian visas.

The future of migration and asylum policy
The conference is not just concerned with the current legal basis of migration policy, however. It also asks how European migration and asylum policy can be made more just in the future. As Foblets puts it, “Merely introducing a humanitarian visa will not solve all the problems that exist in migration policy, for the implementation of such a policy is contingent on many factors, and there are numerous aspects that must be taken into account. For example, at present the administrative infrastructure of the embassies is not adequate to this task. Furthermore, not everyone who seeks protection is equally able to go to an embassy in the first place. This circumstance results in a new selectiveness. And other important questions have still not been resolved at all – what happens to asylum seekers who entered with a humanitarian visa if their application is denied?”

Studying global social change
The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology is one of the world’s leading centres for research in socio-cultural anthropology. It was established in 1999 by Chris Hann and Günther Schlee, and moved to its permanent buildings at Advokatenweg 36 in Halle/Saale in 2001. Marie-Claire Foblets joined the Institute as Director of the Department ‘Law & Anthropology’ in 2012.
Common to all research projects at the Max Planck Institute is the comparative analysis of social change; it is primarily in this domain that its researchers contribute to anthropological theory, though many programmes also have applied significance and political topicality. Fieldwork is an essential part of almost all projects. Some 175 researchers from over 30 countries currently work at the Institute. In addition, the Institute also hosts countless guest researchers who join in the scholarly discussions.

Conference programme

More information on the Department ‘Law and Anthropology’

Contact for this press release
Prof. Dr. Marie-Claire Foblets
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
Department ‘Law and Anthropology’
Advokatenweg 36, 06114 Halle (Saale)
Tel.: 0345 2927-300

PR contact
Stefan Schwendtner
Press and Public Relations
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
Advokatenweg 36, 06114 Halle (Saale)
Tel.: 0345 2927-425

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