In my European country there are many thousands of homeless starving people. Yet my country takes many thousands of "refugees" from Africa and gives them a free housing and substantial financial pay(which regular citizens don't get). Nobody ever explains or discusses the morality of this decisions and those who do are being called racist and fascist. Not considering the political, economical and legal sides of this issue - which philosophy branches/sources can I rely on to argue with others that this is unethical?

  • 1
    Welcome to Philosophy SE. While your question is well formed and specific, as written it seems to be leading with an opinion and many questions such as these get closed for that reason. May I suggest that you edit the question and rephrase it along the lines of whether it is ethical for contributors (taxpayers etc) within a nation to expect priority consideration by a government over non-citizens? That would take a lot of the emotion out of the argument and likely attract higher quality philosophical sources.
    – Tim B II
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 0:33
  • You ask "Is it ethical", but are you really posing a question of ethics --in which one is generally asked to evaluate an ethical dilemma-- if you are simultaneously asking how to defend your thesis that something is in your words "unethical"? You may want to reframe the question. Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 2:05
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    Ethics of moral responsibility to refugees is discussed quite extensively, see e.g. Parekh's critique, but you seem to look for an argument with an already reached conclusion. Be careful, moral balancing is subtle, and any general argument of this sort will be fallacious. You can look at Tugendhat's Moral Dilemma in the Rescue of Refugees
    – Conifold
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 5:07
  • I think I was the first to vote to close as off topic (I thought it belonged in economics) but please ignore my vote to close because I see now it is not off topic.
    – Gordon
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 5:38
  • Ethics is the last thing on politicians mind if it ever crosses their minds. Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 20:20

7 Answers 7


Without investigating the whereabouts we usually help the victims who are hospitalized after serious injuries. Giving first aid is certainly humane. I consider this act as one such thing. I mean accommodating refugees is ethical.

But the unethical side (Since generosity is an additional quality, here I would like to treat it as non-ethical) I could find is on the free housing and substantial financial pay which regular citizens don't get. My opinion is, since there are many thousands of homeless starving people in your country, the Government. should conduct a referendum before giving such financial help. But I am not against the immediate financial help they were given for their survival. If there were few homeless starving people in your country I would consider it as a great act.

which philosophy branches/sources can I rely on to argue with others that this is unethical?

Since laws of a country are formulated according to some philosophy, here you can rely only on laws; not on philosophy; especially because this is not fully related to ethics.

[This answer is from a common man's point of view; never from a broad minded man's.] Since all people are not so generous, wise or like-minded as we think, while solving an issue like this, we should consider the mentality of the common men of that country. Otherwise it will lead to internal conflicts (emerged from envy) and will affect the refugees adversely (in future).

In a family (for staying):

How should we treat our guests (in a perfect family)?. See the story from the Mahabharata (given in bold letters) told by The Golden Mongoose.

In a country (for living):

What should a king do to avoid/deal gossips (even though it is about his own family)? In other words, what care should be taken while handling sensitive issues? The answer to these questions are given in the Ramayana. Though Rama had firm faith in his wife--Sita, he conducted a fire test and also renounced her...just to convince his subjects.

Since your government couldn't accomplish their main duties to the public, at least for an apology, they should conduct a referendum and show their respect/responsibilities towards them.


If it were not ethical to do this, would it be ethical to put an injured tourist in the hospital at public expense? This something many countries with socialized medicine also do, and it involves providing housing and upkeep to someone in far less need to whom they have no formal obligation. How about incarceration of non-citizens? That is public housing, too, and may provide them income. Most moral systems have room for those two options, even given extensive homelessness.

There are generally different approaches to people newly forced into a situation, who could not expect it, and people who have routinely failed to find a place within a culture. There are also provisions for temporary arrangements that are expected not to be permanent, even when there are those who have had the opportunity to find a permanent accommodation and failed.

Most of the long-term homeless are not just in need of housing and accommodation, they need solutions to other problems that keep them in their current state. Unless the state is willing to do a lot more than simply contain and feed them, they repeatedly return to being homeless.

I don't know much about the European equivalent, but this is particularly true in U.S. cities, that have shelters and general assistance measures available, but due to a real inability to relate to the poor in their own context, make them too hard for people with various problems to access. Many of the long-term homeless here have PTSD, schizophrenia, drug problems, serious self-image issues, limited ability to relate to the concepts behind money and responsibility, paradoxical oppositional behavior, or other problems of living that, overall, medical systems have not learned to properly treat in a complete and humane way.

In fact, again I only know the U.S. population, many of them have purposely simply walked out of permanent housing options because they find those options problematic or because they feel problematic for others in those situations. There is a difference between a refugee eager to be out of their situation and a woman who may consider herself undeserving of help because of her own mental and cultural issues, and who may find short-term charity acceptable but long-term charity too hard to accept.

Given that, I don't find this a philosophical problem, but one of internal cultural problems and mental health technology.


Ironically, there are basically at least two diametrically opposed ways one may view the problem of immigration:

  1. Immigrants as brutal conquering forces.
  2. Immigrants as exploited victims of human trafficking.


  1. Discussion regarding ethical treatment of societies under conquest:

"The title by conquest is acquired and maintained by force. The conqueror prescribes its limits..."


  1. Introduction of legislation intended to curb human trafficking of emigrants:

Basically, this 1861 congressional bill outlines a proposed prohibition against human trafficking via emigration practices. There is a long history of exploitation of emigrants for cheap labor.


Ethics and morals are often debated.

Simply put, if your helping someone and not hurting other people then usually we can agree it is ethical behavior.

Understanding there is a scacity of resources can add complexity to the question you proposed.

However, I would make the arugment we live in a world with much abudence. Therefore, if resources are being consumed modestly and helping people it would be ethical.

Most will agree, people do not choose the location of their birth or initial life circumstances are within their control.

Therefore, the geographic location should not define human essential rights. Furthermore, favoring an individual based on a demographic like country of birth is not ethical. We are all human.

You may also consider, that things should not be given freely. To which I would state nothing is free, everything is an investment, and even a baby needs milk from their mom at early stages in life.


Brilliant question! Although it seems a little close-ended in that you're looking for arguments against. Is that a bias, or are you in a debating team for the 'against' side? :P

Defining the Question

You are talking about ethical dilemmas. Two equally 'bad' choices.

Choice 1: Put resources and money into helping refugees, thus taking away resources from poor families in your country.

Choice 2: Direct all resources into the poor families already living in your country, and leave the refugees to die.


In order to make a purely ethical choice you have to make the following economic assumptions:

  1. That poor families in your country are not poor due to chronic and systemic issues, such as generational issues, lack of education, lack of skills, lack of motivation. Otherwise, the poverty issue is really a different set of issues.
  2. That the solution to poverty in your country is easily fixed with known and feasible solutions. Otherwise you are just spending money without any guarantee poverty is solved.
  3. That the known solution to poverty requires a quantifiable sum of money that must be all or nothing .. ie. If you only spend half the amount you won't achieve 50% reduction in poverty, you have to spend all of it to make the solution work.
  4. That the money to solve poverty must come from the money used for refugees, and there is no other source of money that should be used to solve poverty, such as money lost in government corruption, government waster, overspending on military, or bailing out banks.

[In reality, we can be fairly certain that existing poverty in your country is either chronic or systemic and cannot be fixed with a quick cash injection. Furthermore poverty and saving refugees are not sum zero to each other. Even if you took all the money used for refugees and directed towards the poverty in your country, it would still not fix the poverty. And you could fix both problems independently of each other. This is the economic answer.]

Ethical Answer

Assuming the only source of money to save the poor is going to refugees instead, the ethical answer would hinge on the following.

Which of these two statements has the moral higher ground:

  • The life of refugees, who are likely to die or become targets of a lifetime of violence, repression, and crime - but are technically not the responsibility of your state.
  • The betterment of poor who, already living in a safe and stable world, lack the opportunities, but who are the responsibility of your state.

In other words, which is morally more important: To save the lives of strangers, or improve to the lives of your kin?

Simply put, which do you value more: Life or loyalty?

Personally, I would argue that life has the ethical higher ground than loyalty, and so long as the lives of the refugees do not cost the lives of the poor (or anyone else for that matter), saving the refugees is the more ethically correct approach.


In your question there is nothing that states that providing sanctuary to refugees will worsen the conditions of anyone in your country - only that it may be an opportunity cost for the poor. Bringing in refugees will not make things worse for the poor - they won't notice any change for better or worse. However, the condition for refugees will be improved.

Reality Check

I think the reality of your question, is that you're wrongly equating the poverty problem in your country with the assistance of refugees. This relationship is fallacious and at worst, prejudiced. They are two unrelated problems. While there is a cost of resettling refugees, this usually pays itself off as cheap labour and increased population which economies benefit from. If you are thinking that costs to assist refugees take the food from the mouths of the poor, this is simply not true because all the money in the world cannot save the poor. What reduces poverty is raising the standard of living, which comes from a better economy, which comes from increased productivity. Opportunities for social mobility for the poor and underprivileged occurs with an ongoing effective social security system, which come from higher taxes, which comes from increased productivity. Overall, increased opportunities across the social strata comes from a shift in cultural norms (expectations of work ethic and achievement) and government assistance to education and training for the underprivileged. This is an ongoing long term change that pales into insignificance compared with the costs of resettling refugees.


Depending on the differences between the already-homeless and the newly-to-be-homeless-refugees-unless-provided-housing that you think matter, you can judge this either way. Therefore the best way to resolve the issue is to list the biggest differences. I can venture a few guesses:

  • Refugees do not have the right to work, but homeless citizens do.
  • Homeless have a history with(in) the country and have presumably lost their housing somehow, but refugees are blank slates.
  • Homeless have other resources that are supposed to help them, that refugees do not have access to, because of the difference in citizenship.
  • etc.

Well it all depends on your perspective.

If you look at the immediate perspective then some might argue that the government should serve its citizen first.

But if you look at larger context you might be saving a person or group of people from the low life they were living till now (whose living conditions were much worse than European countries )and trying to give them future.

But my perspective on this is that no country can be perfect , thus the employability rate of a country cannot be perfect. Therefore letting in refugees is good till a point where not more than one third of its citizens are not on streets.

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