Responsibility to Redress: Global Harm, Obligation and the Afghan and Iraqi Refugee Crises

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Virginia Tech Publishing


The U.S. led invasions and occupations of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 created displacement crises that continue to this day. Yet despite the on-going consequences of these actions, and immediate needs of millions of people, U.S. and allied responses have been slow, narrow, and inadequate with regard to basic humanitarian aid and protection. In 2006, for example, the U.S. Government created programs to issue Special Immigrant Visas to a limited number of Afghans and Iraqis who worked for the U.S. military in various capacities. These programs were created to help the “friends” of the U.S. that assisted in its war effort. In this way the U.S. Government recognized a limited duty to redress harm while millions of others who were negatively affected by the invasions and occupations are given no such consideration. This paper first considers “cosmopolitan” and “anti-cosmopolitan” justifications for redressing harm done to outsiders. Then, following what Shelley Wilcox calls the global harm principle I argue that the states involved in military action in Afghanistan and Iraq have an obligation to assist everyone negatively affected, not just “friends.” In order to fulfill this obligation, the U.S. and its allies should expand their refugee resettlement programs to admit any non-combatants from Afghanistan or Iraq who wishes to resettle. For those who do not wish to resettle in the United States or Europe, greater funds should be made available in the form of direct cash transfers to individuals and greater funding for international organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I draw upon precedents of reparations in international law and practice, such as those made following cessation of wars, to support this recommendation. Finally, I consider several of the key trade-offs implied by the GHP when implemented in a “non-ideal” world.




Keyel, J., 2016. Responsibility to Redress: Global Harm, Obligation and the Afghan and Iraqi Refugee Crises. Spectra, 5(2). DOI: