Transferring Best Practice:
An international workshop on the comparative study of refugee return
programmes with reference to the Palestinian context
9-11th June 2004
University of Exeter, UK
A Call for Papers
The Palestinian refugee issue is the most difficult of the outstanding
problems in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. With a growth
rate of 3.1 percent, the registered refugee population of 3.7 million is
increasing at approximately 110,000 per annum. It is therefore an issue that
will not fade away over time and delay only increases the magnitude of the
problems to be solved. The suffering and political instability caused by the
non-resolution of this issue is plain to see.
The study of the Palestinian refugee issue is also one characterised by
exceptionalism. The commonly-held view is that the Palestinian refugee
situation is unique because of its longevity and because of the evolution of
relief structures outside the main UN agency dealing with refugees, UNHCR.
Consequently, it is argued that its resolution should also be designed from
within its context. In addition, the issue is usually debated, and solutions
are proposed, in terms of political and human rights. While these are
essential elements of a solution, one result has been the failure to utilise
the experience of UNHCR and other international NGOs. This in turn has led to
a restricted range of policy options.
Aims and Objectives
The workshop has two main aims:
a. to link discussions over the future of Palestinian refugees to the broader
experience of repatriation and resettlement activities of UNHCR and other
b. to draw on social science comparative methodologies as a tool for
identifying pre-requisites for an effective and durable repatriation
The intention, therefore, is to bring to bear upon the Palestinian context the
corpus of evaluative literature and "best practice" reports built up by UNHCR
and other international NGOs.
The workshop will draw together specialists from a number of different refugee
return situations and through the presentation of papers and debate, examine
the relevance of this material to the Palestinian context. The organisers will
also invite participation from local and international NGOs, Israeli and
Palestinian government officials, the World Bank, UNHCR, UNRWA, and the EU.
The workshop will be the first such gathering on the relevance of comparative
studies to the Palestinian refugee issue that draws together both scholars and
Preliminary research into the relevance of other refugee situations to the
Palestinian context has shown that the selection of comparative case studies
can be problematic. Some aspects of a refugee situation are comparable while
others are not. For example, it may be possible to compare the demographic
profiles of a number of refugee populations and similarities in historical
evolution may be found, but at the same time cultural differences may preclude
extrapolating from these similarities in order to construct similar
operational repatriation programmes. Nevertheless, the same research
indicates, that despite such flaws, the exercise is instructive and can be
illuminating: the very points at which comparative symmetry breaks down can
itself identify those features of the Israeli-Palestinian situation which most
need to be addressed. Indeed, the accumulation of case studies has been the
basis of the UNHCR best practice reports leading to the formulation of
guidelines and conventions.
Thus, while strict comparability may not be achievable, the choice of case
studies can still be guided by a systematic procedure of argued criteria. In
this way relevance rather than strict comparability can serve as a guiding
principle. Case studies can be selected in the light of the following
considerations: comparability in demographic profile rather than absolute
numbers; relevance of historical trajectory, relevance of host country
involvement, relevance of regional political structures and of lead agency
operations, and finally, the accessibility of primary data either in the form
of documentation or through interviews of key personnel.
The workshop is intended to contribute to the creation of a pool of research
that will assist in comparative analysis. Research papers on single case
studies that address the three following themes are invited:
a. The regional political agreements and multilateral frameworks for return
programmes.(eg UNHCR-government/host country agreements) that are necessary
before a return programme can take place.
Suggested topics to be included: the role of international law in developing a
framework for an agreement; the specificity in such agreements of refugee
rights, restitution, compensation, funding etc; refugee participation in
b. The kind of institutional structures and lead agencies
(private/public/voluntary sector provision) that can provide the most
satisfactory vehicles for an effective return programme.
Suggested topics to be included: the nature of and mechanisms for donor
coordination; role of NGO communities and civil society in process; assessment
of strengths and weaknesses of structures created.
c. The range of options that are available for refugees (eg compensation,
return, host or third country resettlement) in the construction of a return
Suggested topics to be included: mechanisms for the communication of options
to refugee communities; preparation time required; link between different
options; sources of compensation funds; the role of reconciliation and
restorative justice programmes.
It is hoped that most of the papers offered would deal with all three themes
within the case studies but papers that focus on only one or two of the themes
will also be considered. Alternative comparative frameworks will also be
considered if they add both to the debate on the utility of comparative
studies and provide additional insights to a case study.
In addition the workshop will include a thematic section comprising the
a. gender issues and female empowerment
b. the role of the donor community - constraints, coordination and influence
c. statelessness and nationality in framing agreements
d. comparative perspectives on property restitution
e. the role of data collection and analysis in constructing operational
f. post-agreement protection and the status of refugees.
Dr Mick Dumper, Department of Politics, University of Exeter, will coordinate
the workshop. It is funded by the International Development Research Centre
(IDRC)(Ottawa) and the Department for International Development (UK
government). A Steering Committee comprising Professor Richard Black, Editor
of the Journal for Refugee Studies, Dr Sari Hanafi, Director of Shaml, the
Palestinian Diaspora and Refugee Centre, Terry Rempel, Research Coordinator,
Badil Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, Roula el-
Rifai from IDRC will advise the Coordinator on the selection of the papers and
In order to ensure that the material from the workshop is disseminated as
widely as possible, it is intended to publish the papers in a single volume
edited by Mick Dumper. The provisional title is: Comparative Perspectives on
Refugee Return Programmes. It will comprise both papers submitted to the
workshop and an introductory and a number of analytical chapters based upon
the case studies presented.
Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent to the address below by
15th January. Authors of accepted papers will be informed by 15th February.
Complete papers are to be submitted by 30th April.
Presenters will receive an honorarium of £500 for their paper. Half will be
paid at the workshop and the remainder after revisions have been made for
publication. Presenters and invited participants will also receive travel
expenses, accommodation and full board at the Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter
where most of the sessions of the workshop will also be held.
Dr Michael Dumper,
Reader in Middle East Politics,
School of Historical, Political and Sociological Studies,
University of Exeter.
EX4 4RJ. DEVON, UK
Email: [log in to unmask]
Fax: 00 44 1392 263305
Tel: 00 44 1392 263167/
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