Responsibility Sharing: From Principle to Policy

Michael W Doyle

International Journal of Refugee Law, 2018


This article discusses whether the Global Compact on Refugees (Refugee Compact) provides sufficient specificity on responsibility sharing to address the lack of binding commitments on responsibility sharing in the 1951 Refugee Convention and New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The author argues that States, international organizations and non-governmental organizations need to take on additional “responsibility by culpability” and “responsibility by capability” and establish a formal system for collective action.

  • “Responsibility by culpability”: The author argues that forced expulsion, a crime against humanity, warrants international sanction by the UN Security Council under the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, and the UN Security Council would be justified in seizing the overseas financial assets of perpetrators (e.g. Syrian State or terrorist group) with sizable assets and using them to support refugees.
  • “Responsibility by capability”: The author argues that the 1951 Refugee Convention indicates a moral commitment to international cooperation, irrespective of fault. He suggests determining each State’s share of the global responsibility to protect refugees (e.g. resettlement quotas for Syrian refugees) according to the European Union (EU) formula for responsibility based on four criteria: (a) population; (b) GDP; (c) unemployment; and (d) past refugee loads. The author acknowledges that such a system for responsibility sharing is unlikely to succeed due to a lack of solidarity and ‘buck-passing’. More moderate proposals may be more politically viable. For example, States set their own level of responsibility and offer pledges (e.g. resettlement visas, assistance to refugees in countries of first asylum), which it would justify in a summit with other States. Another possibility would be to identify pathways other than formal resettlement to gain residence in third countries, e.g. refugees prioritized for other categories of visas (family, labor, student etc.). Capability might also be enhanced by mobilizing the private sector, for example: (i) encouraging private sponsorship of refugee resettlement; (ii) investing in cell phone technology and internet platforms to improve connectivity for refugees; (iii) matching refugees with job opportunities through the creation of virtual platforms that link employers with refugees looking for jobs; (iv) crowdsourcing that allows individuals to make direct contributions; and (v) subsidizing private investment supported by risk sharing.