Flight and Migration

Bertold Bernreuter Discussion

From January 11–13, 2017, polylog: Forum for Intercultural Philosophy is organizing its 6th Intercultural Interdisciplinary Colloquium on the topic of Flight and Migration, hosted at the Catholic University of Applied Sciences Freiburg.

In recent times, the refugee question became a central challenge in Europe. According to the UNHCR, more than 64 million people had to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere. Although only very few of these refugees manage to get to Europe, discussions on the refugee question in Europe are highly controversial. International conventions as the Geneva convention for the protection of refugees oblige states to host refugees. But whereas on the one hand, the public and civil society support the protection of refugees and welcome them, on the other hand parts of the public present refugees as a threat and danger. Extremist right wing movements threaten and attack refugees, their homes and individuals of civil society in favor of refugee protection. In all of the European countries national conservative, extreme right and racial discourses and movements are growing.

Many countries do not take in refugees at all and built high fences or implement strict border controls. Along the closed European borders, refugees live in newly established camps under most inhumane conditions. Most of the European countries introduced new restrictive asylum laws, one of the consequences are more possibilities to deport asylum seekers whose application was turned down.

In this situation we have to engage in differentiated and committed debates from a both intercultural and philosophical perspective on different levels. Depending from the point of view various questions arise:

What are ethical grounds for the protection of refugees? Asylum is a human right, but often asylum legislation and regulations, as the recent EU–Turkey agreement on refugees, contradict human right standards. We are facing situations, for instance, when refugees are being deported or camps being evacuated, where these actions might fulfill legal provisions formally, but they mean a humanitarian disaster for those concerned.

How can philosophical thinking depart from a refugees' perspective? Some authors refer to Giorgio Agamben's figure of homo sacer in order to analyze incompatibilities between human rights' norms and standards on the one hand and not existing formal rights on the other hand. In some of his texts, Agamben speaks of irregular migrants being the prototype of life that has been excommunicated. So Agamben and other authors underline the fact that refugees are completely deprived of any rights, especially while being in the border area.

How can borders be put into questions? How can they be legitimized? Strands of refugee studies and civil rights movements for refugees want to widen the conception of refugee protection. They argue that extreme poverty or complete lack of perspectives also equals persecution. But being confronted with recent migration trajectories, we have to put into question the legitimacy of border protection and borders in general. Since the years around 1990, there is a debate in liberal political philosophy in the US and Canada on open borders, these debates have been taken further by democratic theory and argue for open borders or at least against violent protection of borders.

How is global justice to be realized? Theories following social liberalism focus on equality and justice. They argue for a right to immigrate because of massive global inequalities and the obligation to reduce inequality. If we pursue the idea that global justice means that there exists a minimum of well-being for everybody all over the world then we could argue for free migration in order to reduce global injustice.

To what extent does participation make sense? Democratic theories reach certain limits if we look at conflicts within European societies, when, for example, local people fight against a refugee shelter and demand to participate in decision processes. From the point of view of democratic theory, we have to argue for participation, but from the point of view of global equality, we have to see the exclusion of others and argue against.

Are there non-western philosophical approaches to migration and flight? In Europe, the debates on migration are referring mostly to theories of European or Anglo-American origin. We hardly know approaches from different parts of the world, e.g. from the Global South. Nearly none of the current theories on migration in Europe are based on non-western philosophies.

The colloquium intends to create a space for the discussion of the philosophical dimensions of flight and migration in an intercultural orientation:

  • Ethical and human rights' grounds of the protection of refugees
  • Debates on borders, open borders and migration
  • Global equality and flight
  • Global justice and migration
  • Controversies on racist, racial and nationalist positions on migration
  • Rights and participation of refugees
  • Ethical and spiritual grounds for volunteering and commitment to refugees

Further topics are possible.

Submission of contributions

Potential contributors from philosophy and related disciplines are invited to submit a proposal. Please email your abstract (up to 2,000 characters) together with a short biographical note by August 5, 2016.


English and German (no translations)


30 minutes, plus 30 minutes each for discussion


Participation is free; the number of talks will be restricted however in order to ensure that there is sufficient time for fruitful and focused discussions. All presenters are requested to attend the full duration of the colloquium. Invitation letters will only be issued to registered speakers.


Catholic University of Applied Sciences Freiburg
Karlstr. 63, 79104 Freiburg, Germany


  • Deadline for abstract submissions: August 5, 2016
  • Notification of acceptance: August 20, 2016
  • Colloquium in Freiburg: January 11–13, 2017

Unfortunately, no funding for travel and accommodation is possible.


  • Nausikaa Schirilla (Freiburg)
  • Bertold Bernreuter (Mexico City)
  • Britta Saal (Wuppertal)​