David Miller, “The Duty to Rescue Boat People”
February 4 2016
Screening Room G.04,
50 George Square, Edinburgh
Professor David Miller, from the University of Oxford, is an internationally acclaimed scholar in the fields of political theory and global ethics. He is the author of numerous monographs, including “On Nationality”, “Principles of Social Justice” and “Global Justice and National Responsibility”. He is currently working on a book addressing the ethics of immigration policy.
An abstract for his talk is below. All are welcome, from across the university and beyond. Those interested in attending dinner after the event should contact firstname.lastname@example.org
What duty, if any, do competent governments and their navies and commercial vessels have to rescue migrants attempting dangerous sea crossings, whether in the search for a better life or simply to escape persecution? Recent events in the Mediterranean have sparked fiercely opposed political responses to this question. But is the duty to rescue a strict duty, or should rescue missions be evaluated using consequentialist reasoning? I address this topic by exploring, on the one hand, the conventional duty of rescue at sea under international law and, on the other, the individual duty of Samaritan aid on land. I argue that the rescue of boat people has features that clearly distinguish it from both of these duties, including the possibility of moral hazard, where successful rescues encourage others to make dangerous sea crossings. In consequence, we need to distinguish the duty that falls upon the master of an individual ship from the responsibilities of governments when establishing search-and-rescue missions or responding in other ways to seaborne migration. Unless governments owe person-specific obligations of redress towards migrants, they should be guided by consequentialist reasoning when making these decisions. The paper concludes by suggesting that our responses to the unfolding tragedy in the Mediterranean will be conditioned by our background beliefs about states’ rights to control their borders.