Misinformation as Immigration Control


It is wrong to force refugees to return to the countries they fled from. It is similarly wrong, many argue, to force migrants back to countries with life-threatening conditions. I argue that it is additionally wrong to help such refugees and migrants voluntarily return whilst failing to inform them of the risks. Drawing on existing data, and original data from East Africa, I describe distinct types of cases where such a wrong arises. In ‘Misinformation Cases’ officials tell refugees that it is safe to return, when it is not, and refugees return who would have otherwise stayed. In ‘Omission Cases’ officials do not provide any information on countries of origin, and this omission causes refugees to repatriate. In ‘Relevancy Cases’ refugees are misinformed or uninformed, but would have returned even if better informed. In all of these cases, at least some state officials are blameworthy for their failure to inform refugees, and are engaging in a form of wrongful immigration control.

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  1. 1.

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  2. 2.

    I assume that an agent can be responsible for an objectionable outcome without being culpable, but that one cannot be culpable without being responsible for an objectionable outcome.

  3. 3.

    I shall assume a largely utilitarian form of consequentialism (see Singer 2015), but nothing I argue is dependent on this formulation of consequentialism.

  4. 4.

    In this case, the government of Afghanistan warned of insecurity, but the case workers helping children repatriate may have still been misinformed themselves due to inaccurate reports from their superiors.

  5. 5.

    Interview with OBI, Jerusalem, 6 October 2010.

  6. 6.

    Even if such demands would ensure optimal consequences, they would create unequal burdens and may, as such, be unfair.

  7. 7.

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  8. 8.

    Such a reason would also be supported by deontologists and virtue ethicists who care about avoiding negative consequences.

  9. 9.

    Even theories which view virtuous motives as primary still determine the rightness of motives partly based on the extent of causal harm. If, for example, a virtuous person is one who cares about others, it seems that caring involves, at least some of the time, caring about whether one’s actions will case harm (see Slote 2001).

  10. 10.

    Interview with Yasmin, Aweil, 30 March 2012.

  11. 11.

    Discussion with Bok, Juba, 1 January 2013.

  12. 12.

    Strictly speaking, virtue ethicists may not couch this in terms of ‘blameworthiness’ but simply in terms of non-virtuous motives. There is much debate over what constitutes a non-virtuous motive. Regardless, if seems clear that one lacks a virtuous motive if one fails to call an ambulance for an individual in urgent need (see Slote 2001).

  13. 13.

    Interview with director of HIAS-Israel, Jerusalem, 11 December 2012.

  14. 14.

    Interview with Voluntary Return official, Tel Aviv, 7 August 2013.

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Correspondence to Mollie Gerver.

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Gerver, M. Misinformation as Immigration Control. Res Publica 23, 495–511 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11158-016-9339-9

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  • Immigration
  • Refugees
  • Informed consent
  • Deportation
  • Repatriation