- Sanctuary Practices in International Perspectives: Migration, Citizenship, and Social Movements ed. by Randy K. Lippert & Sean Rehaag
Modern day sanctuary practices, diverse ways to resist detention and deportation in order to stay together, have resonance both across time and geographic space. First it is seen as a response to our turbulent contemporary world, which places the asylum regime under constant pressure and has devastating consequences for the people who are forced to flee from their home countries. Second, it is an expression of autonomous migration, where human agency is essential, in the sense that despite which regime is in control, [End Page 810] people keep migrating and organize themselves outside of inter-state planning. Third, sanctuary is an illustration of rights-claiming, the enactment of a right to have rights, to borrow Hannah Arendt’s famous statement in the 1950s. The truth of Arendt’s argument is that there is one fundamentally important right: the right to have rights. This is obvious given that there are as many refugees in the world today as there were during the time of her writing: 51 million people according to the UN high commissioner for refugees. In the aftermath of World War II, the political conditions at hand provided a basis for a system of real human rights, i.e. rights respected and implemented in collaboration between states. Through political ambitions of the world community, barbarous acts which had, “outraged the conscience of mankind,” as it is described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, would never be allowed to happen again. In order to solve the refugee problem in the world, which the international community deemed temporary, the UN Refugee Convention was adopted in 1951. Ever since that time, the supervision of compliance with human rights has been associated with the nation-states’ obligation to respect and protect human rights, mainly for their own nationals. The problem with people who do not have their own state’s protection remains, while the likelihood for refugees to enjoy a safe haven from war and persecution has become limited.
The current situation makes the book Sanctuary Practices in International Perspectives: Migration, Citizenship and Social Movements (now in paper back) a welcome contribution. In this edited volume, scholars from across the world explore places and practices of sanctuary, from an international, theoretical, and historical perspective. Karl Shoemaker, who describes medieval sanctuary documents on the protection of persons having committed criminal acts, gives a historical perspective. For kings in medieval England sanctuary was a way to show their strength. Furthermore, the rational of sanctuary and its abandonment are presented as an institutionalization of religion into the state, combined with better administration of laws and fair trials: “The triumph of the rule of law was thought to have rendered sanctuary detrimental to the public good.”1 This relation between safe havens on one hand and lack of objectivity, impartiality, and legitimacy of the nation state on the other hand, was revived during the renewal of church sanctuary in the 1970s and 1980s. During this time, sanctuary practices emerged as a necessary response to the management of migration regimes with its differing means, including arrest and deportation of individuals to places where it was highly uncertain that they could enjoy protection of their fundamental rights. The role of the church as a political actor independent of the state was now strengthened anew.
Within the framework of the US New Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s, sanctuary developed from being a provision of physical protection, to include strategically telling a broader public of the effects of contemporary deportation regimes. Compared to the sanctuary movement in the 1980s, the actors involved since the beginning of this century developed approaches that Grace Yukich describes [End Page 811] as “radical accompaniment.”2 These differ from ideas of church-based physical sanctuary in the sense that practices of inclusion rather than places of sanctuary constitute the basis of the movement. At times, these most recent activities also take a transnational conformation. This dimension is explored...