The political impact of refugees on the country...
The refugee crisis today has led us to a rethinking of the role of refugees in society.
In 2015, 65 million people lived outside their country of origin because they are forced to flee crises. The current mass movement of refugees and displaced persons has given rise to xenophobia and calls for tightening borders. Internal migration within countries is also on the rise. There are more than 21 million people refugees around the world.
In an article by Professor Alexander Betts -director of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University- he argued that a view of refugees as potential economic contributors to their receiving societies must be complemented by a more radical “rethinking of the role of refugees in society”, one that sees refugees as political resources for reshaping regimes in their countries of origin.
Betts points out, focuses on the economic benefits of resettling refugees in European states while neglecting the political benefits of using them to support “long-term transitions to peace and democracy back home”.
A reply to Alexander Betts has made by Rebecca Buxton and Theophilus Kwek. In their article they pointed out that Many refugees seek to distance themselves from recent trauma, while others deliberately adopt new identities (some even rejecting the label of “refugee” altogether) in order to start new lives and find new communities. In other words, there are many refugees who would prefer not to be associated with the political situation in their home countries, let alone be expected to return and change them.
They also criticize Betts article by saying it also neglects the refugees whose social networks and personal resources are less easily mobilized for political change in their home countries – those whose families are at risk of severe repercussions, for example, or those who are already marginalized in their societies of origin. Treating refugees as “useful” for political change implicitly devalues those who lack either the desire or the means to aid the rebuilding process.
There are deeper problems at the root of this argument. Attempts to reconcile refugees to host states’ agendas represent an erosion of the basis of the refugee protection regime: the understanding that states have obligations towards refugees, and ought to reconcile their own agendas to fulfilling them. Specifically, states’ policies should recognize that refugees are in need of protection precisely because their individual freedoms – including the freedom to determine their own political actions – have been overridden by their home nations, leaving them, in the words of the 1951 Refugee Convention, “unable [...] or unwilling to avail themselves of the protections of [those] countries”. The primary duty of a receiving state is thus to restore the refugee’s personal agency: something that is easily occluded by re-framing the refugee, instead, to suit its foreign policy goals.
Betts argues that states should “empower refugees”. We agree. But the idea of conceptualizing refugees as “useful” to an international agenda does just the opposite. In order to truly empower refugees, we must eschew the rhetoric that they can be our “resources”. Sadly, Refugees have, historically, borne the costs of being treated as political resources by their hosts or powerful neighbors. Otherwise, we view refugees as valuable only in so far as they are worth something to our rebuilding projects. And under this framing, to borrow Phil Cole’s words, the refugee “has their representation determined for them”.
Quoted and edited: Negar Paidar
The views expressed in this article are the author's opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ODVV.