The myth of free-riding: Refugee protection and implicit burden-sharing

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Series Details Vol.29, No.2, March 2006, p351-369
Publication Date March 2006
ISSN 0140-2382
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Why do states accept what appear to be disproportionate and inequitable burdens in the provision of international collective goods? Traditional burden-sharing models emphasise free-riding opportunities of small countries at the expense of larger ones. An alternative model suggests that countries specialise according to their comparative advantage as to the type and level of contribution they make to international collective goods. We apply this model to forced migration and suggest that countries can contribute to refugee protection in two principal ways: proactively, through peacekeeping/making and reactively, by providing protection for displaced persons. While the existing literature on peacekeeping provides evidence for the ‘exploitation of the big by the small’, our analysis of UNHCR data of 15 OECD countries for the period 1994-2002 balances this view by showing that reactive burdens are disproportionately borne by smaller states. We also show that EU asylum policy initiatives directed at refugee burden-sharing aim at equalising particular dimensions of states' contributions to refugee protection. By doing so, they curtail opportunities for specialisation and risk consolidating a sub-optimal provision of refugee protection.

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