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Southern host states—including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Kenya, and Bangladesh—are vital to the contemporary system of refugee management. These countries confront challenges of porous borders and changing demographics. They address refugees’ urgent needs for food and shelter and the long-term challenges of education, unemployment, and the degradation of local infrastructure. The ways Southern host countries manage, control, and support refugee populations influences the movement of refugees to states in the Global North, the operations of international aid organizations, and the day-to-day lives of most of the world’s refugees. An apparent, but often overlooked, paradox emerges from recognizing the global distribution of the world’s refugees: Illiberal states protect more refugees than do liberal states. How can an illiberal regime protect more lives than a liberal democracy? I argue that illiberal states host most of the world’s refugees precisely because they can engage in illiberal practices to manage refugee populations and maintain final authority over their domestic territory. Humanitarianism is a stopgap measure that provides lifesaving relief, but ultimately, cannot take the place of rights. And yet, despite an array of fair critiques that can be wielded at Southern hosts and their illiberal governing practices, these countries provide more people with the right to live than states that have been celebrated for upholding the mantle of human rights.
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All Middle East
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