Professor Wolfgang Dietrich, UNESCO Chair for Peace Studies at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, addressed a Bilkent International Security and Strategy Seminar on December 2, 2015 and made a presentation entitled “Peace Project Europe and the so-called Refugee Crisis”.
In his thought provoking talk, Dietrich approached Europe’s ‘refugee crisis’ from a historical perspective that took into account the framework of human rights that was codified in international law in the aftermath of the Second World War. Dietrich drew attention to the philosophical and conceptual foundations of the European Union as a peace project. Dietrich argued that three international documents were critical to understanding the contemporary conception of a refugee in Europe; the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1951 UNCHR Convention and its protocol signed in 1967. Most importantly, Dietrich argued that these international documents were written by people of the same spirit and based on European principles, such as the primacy of the individual as the carrier of human rights, and the primacy of the nation state. That is why, according to Dietrich, in today’s Europe one of the most important discussions about the current ‘refugee crisis’ is focused on whether refugees are economic migrants or not. In Dietrich’s view, while this discussion belonged to the far right in the past, recently it has become a part of the mainstream.
Professor Dietrich called for a rethinking of European concepts in dealing with the ongoing ‘refugee crisis’; the concept of human rights based on individualism, the concepts of war and sovereignty based on the nation state, and finally the concept of refugee as distinct from the concept of an economic migrant.