Human Rights of Refugees in Europe with Integral Theory

Human Rights of Refugees in Europe with Integral Theory


International lawyer, PhD Candidate at the Central European University and former United Nations officer, Magdalena Smieszek presents at the Integral European Conference. 


European human rights frameworks embody a collective morality that’s synthesized over generations. Yet, these principles are thrust into a ‘crisis’ when confronted with large numbers of asylum seekers, and we see varying responses. The scenario forces critical questions – what’s underlying these European values?


Are they a reflection of universal compassion, or are they limited and self-centered in scope?

Clearly, there is conflict, a multi-layered and psychological one. With all the modern mechanisms, human rights aim to overcome differences and affirm freedoms, all while protecting diversity. This is met with persistent paradoxes.

In my research I focus on the underlying emotions in refugee rights, a subject close to my heart based on first-hand experience around the globe, and also where I’ve put my head to work by studying the core of the enduring conundrums. I examine the dissonance in human rights, the resolution of which can advance the integral stage. In doing so, I summon a union between human rights theory and integral theory.

We can say that European human rights frameworks, systems and theories are experiencing growing pains. The eras can be mapped along the integral spectrum: from pre-modern philosophy, through the Enlightenment and scientific advancement, onto post-modernism that challenges and complements universalism. Since the twentieth century, human rights have been characterized in ‘generations’: first civil-political rights, then socio-economic and cultural rights, then rights concerning peace, environment, and development, and now we’re onto another stage – information and communication. All of this develops at the universal, regional, national, local and individual levels.


Human rights connect the universal objectives with personal ones;

they are both bottom-up and top-down as well as horizontal. The standards aim to define a ‘common core’ while setting aspirations of what ‘ought to be’. They provide a template to which we – as individuals, communities, and institutions – provide further substance and meaning.

My research maps this evolution in Europe with reference to refugee rights. Since I’m primarily concerned with the psychology of human rights, I do something that legal scholarship isn’t normally at ease with – I look at laws as expressions, responses and cultivators of emotions. Specifically, I examine inclusionary and exclusionary emotions as they relate to reasoning in human rights of refugees, ones that oscillate between compassion and fear.

From an AQAL all-quadrant perspective, the method looks like this:

Individual/ interior/ subjective – In addition to introspection, I reflect on the psychology of asylum seekers as well as people that either welcome or fear the ‘other’. I draw on empirical research, different schools of psychology, and theories of inclusion and exclusion, to see how this informs (or could inform) laws concerning reception and integration of refugees in Europe.

Individual/ exterior/ objective – I consider the science of how these emotions function, linking the consequent behaviour to the responsibilities of law. There are a number of new disciplines to utilize, such as social neuroscience and behavioural economics. 

Collective/ interior/ inter-subjective – I examine emotions expressed or implied in cultural literature that influences laws in Europe. I use historical accounts of celebrated philosophers (how their musings on human nature made their way into human rights laws and institutions) as well as modern-day representations (i. e. the media).

Collective/ exterior/ inter-objective – I dissect universal and European human rights laws related to asylum, with their social, political and economic dimensions. I extract references to emotions so as to examine how this influences legal reasoning.  

The methodology allows for an overlap between multiple theories and findings, informed by cross-disciplinary perspectives, mapped along stages of development, and therefore better equipped, I propose, to respond to conflicts for a more conscious and integral formulation of laws and policies.



text: Magdalena Smieszek, Central European University – pictures: IEC marketing team – 

Presenter: Magdalena Smieszek

has over twenty years of experience in the field of human rights, including a decade with the United Nations, in different parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. She is currently in Hungary completing a PhD in law.

CEUCandidate for Doctorate of Juridical Science ( – Present): In my PhD research I take an interdisciplinary approach to consider the situation of asylum seekers in Europe, their access to social and economic rights according to international and European law, and how provision or denial of rights affects long-term integration.

UNHCRRegional Integration Officer, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR Hungary, October 2011 – April 2013): Provided support to UNHCR offices in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia as well as directly to Slovenian counterparts through research, policy and technical advice and capacity building activities on legal, economic, social and cultural integration of people of concern. 

UNHCRAssociate Protection Officer (UNHCR Nepal, October 2008 – September 2011): Developed and ensured implementation of an effective urban refugee policy, concerning education, health, financial assistance, self-reliance, community development and psycho-social support.

UNHCRProtection Coordinator (UNHCR Pakistan, October 2010 – December 2010): Led the protection cluster and ensured coordination of protection issues with humanitarian, government and non-governmental counterparts in the flood affected areas of Sindh province.

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