What is a refugee?_book by william maley

What is a refugee?_ book by william maley

Translating the refugee crisis

31 October 2017

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Denmark is a country which has a long history of involvement with refugee issues. In 1943 over 7000 Danish Jews were able to cross the narrow Öresund Strait into Sweden seeking protection from persecution. “Nobel Prize winning physicist Niels Bohr was evacuated to Sweden in the face of dire threats from the Nazis,” Professor William Maley from the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy said. “Because of his Nobel Prize he was able to see the 85-year-old king of Sweden who then agreed to his request to make space available for Danish Jews.”

As live an issue now as it was back then, Professor Maley recently spent two days in Denmark, where the translation of his book was launched by the Chair of the Danish Refugee Council. “As in Australia, there have been right wing political parties in Denmark which have sought to agitate against more recent people seeking asylum,” Professor Maley said. In March 2017, Inger Stojberg, the Danish minister for Integration celebrated the passing of the 50th regulation restricting immigration by posting a picture of a cake on Facebook. Professor Maley’s book seeks to locate the issue of refugees as one within a conception of the international system where the moral justification for states is an ability to protect their citizens. “The refugee phenomenon reflects the imperfect operation of that system,” he said. “There are some states that either cannot protect their own citizens or actively persecute their own citizens.”

An added complexity, is actually defining who gets to be a refugee. “It’s not so much ambiguity as the availability of different ways of defining the term,” Professor Maley said of the question posed by his book’s title. The international legal definition rests on the 1951 Refugee Convention. “That doesn’t necessarily overlap completely with what you might call an ordinary language understanding of the idea of refugees,” Professor Maley said. Professor Maley hopes the translation of his book will help tease out some of those complexities for both a general and academic audience. “I think it’s useful because there tends to be an assumption in English-speaking countries that everybody speaks English,” he said. “And in the Scandinavian countries that’s true of a lot of people but it’s not true of everybody.”

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