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Many countries in Europe are closing their borders to refugees after a spur of right-winged political movements. However, the principle of non-refoulement states that a state must accept someone who is escaping a well-founded fear of persecution. How does this work?

  • Where does this "legal obligation" come from? And what is meant by "prosecution?" Is it really prosecution that those people are trying to escape? – ostrichofevil Apr 23 '16 at 0:54
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    @ostrichofevil Here is the definition: unhcr.org/3ae68ccd10.html I believe that almost all of Europe has signed this. – Vasting Apr 23 '16 at 0:57
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    Did you mean persecution? Additionally, you've conflated refoulment with a different concept. – Drunk Cynic Apr 23 '16 at 5:01
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    It also matters where the refugee is. If someone is in Syria, then they can easily be fleeing persecution by moving into Turkey or Jordan. But once in Turkey, they would have to be fleeing Turkish persecution to move into Greece as refugees. That's why they hop on boats. Because once in Greece, it's hard to move them out. – Brythan Apr 23 '16 at 5:51
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    @DrunkCynic by refulgent I mean the UNHCR definition of "No Contracting State shall expel or return ("refouler") a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." – Vasting Apr 23 '16 at 17:52
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How does this work? By instructing immigration officers, border-guards, military, police or other government branches to prevent refugees from crossing the border.

Of course there are international treaties which would theoretically outlaw this practice, but international treaties are only effective when other states are willing to enforce them. When they do not feel that it is politically wise to get involved (or even in their interest to not get involved, for example because the refugees would move on straight to them when allowed to enter the European Union), they won't.

Note that most of the EU border states haven't officially closed their borders to refugees. They rather insist on refugees passing the border in an ordered and controlled manner where each refugee is registered properly. This of course takes its time because the number of refugees which can be processed that way per day is limited.

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    The last paragraph is the most important. There is a difference between objective right (which may be called formal) and a subjective right, i.e. the right for a particular individual to demand an act or omission. As long as the objective right isn't enforced, the subjective right is without meaning. That doesn't mean that it isn't there, it is. That is why these refugees feel betrayed: It is their right and this right is plainly denied. TL;DR they can because there is noone with the corresponding power caring enough to do anything about it. – Philip Klöcking Apr 25 '16 at 15:08
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You have answered your own question by quoting UNHCR definition: "No Contracting State shall expel or return ("refouler") a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."

A person from Syria is seeking refugee in Turkey. He is now safe from persecution. However if he wants to move from there to let's say Austria, they can refuse him. He is safe in Turkey. By moving from Turkey to Austria he is not "escaping a well-founded fear of persecution". By not admitting him from Turkey, Austria is not "returning a refugee [...] to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened".

  • A person in Turkey is indeed facing a well-founded fear of persecution, regardless of whether he's come from Syria or not. Over the past several years there have been enormous campaigns of political persecution of the political opposition in Turkey; of the press; of academics; etc. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Dec 6 '18 at 23:40

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