It has been suggested that the distribution of refugees over host countries can be made more fair or efficient if policy makers take into account not only numbers of refugees to be distributed but also the goodness of the matches between refugees and their possible host countries. There are different ways to design distribution mechanisms that incorporate this practice, which opens up a space for normative considerations. In particular, if the mechanism takes countries’ or refugees’ preferences into account, there may be trade-offs between satisfying their preferences and the number of refugees distributed. This article argues that, in such cases, it is not a reasonable policy to satisfy preferences. Moreover, conditions are given which, if satisfied, prevent the trade-off from occurring. Finally, it is argued that countries should not express preferences over refugees, but rather that priorities for refugees should be imposed, and that fairness beats efficiency in the context of distributing asylum. The framework of matching theory is used to make the arguments precise, but the results are general and relevant for other distribution mechanisms such as the relocations currently in effect in the European Union.
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