Call for Papers
'Dis-Placement: Refugees between Places'
Thematic Issue of 'Peripherie - Zeitschrift für Politik und Ökonomie in der Dritten Welt' (Journal for Politics and Economy in the Third World)
A refugee is defined by international law as a person who resides outside their country of citizenship due to well-founded fear of persecution. The Geneva Refugee Convention provides them with a special status in international law, which formally offers refugees a right to protection by the country of asylum or international assistance. However, this definition reflects powerful assumptions that are grounded in the international refugee regime and influence public discourse about displacement and migration.
Refugee policies are embedded in a world structured by the geo-political order of sovereign nation states, including national belonging. Refugees are generally perceived as existing outside this 'national order of things', appearing to be located between states. Subsiding in a position of transition between flight and return, they appear as having lost their nationality, culture and identity. This is true in particular for refugee camps that are commonly associated with chaos, alienation and loss of home and are seen as 'non-places' or 'sites of exception'.
The perception of refugees being in the wrong location and, therefore, as constituting a problem leads to certain policies and practices. State institutions have the power to issue documents and to decide who will receive particular rights and who will not. They can grant asylum, residency status and citizenship as well as deport rejected asylum seekers, which in itself may be understood as a form of forced migration.
Concurrently, the international refugee regime creates a system in which affected people are labelled with specific categories, like refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), asylum seekers, economic/poverty migrants. These distinctions imply an opposition between voluntary and forced migration or the necessity of crossing international borders to be able to claim international protection. They serve political interests but are subject to political negotiation and can be manipulated by the subjects themselves to realise new options and achieve a level of security in vulnerable situations. The system of categories links the global migration regime directly to the experiences of migrants. To hold a certain passport, to be accepted as refugee or to receive legal residency status opens some paths of action and blocks others. Moreover, this system circumscribes belongings, veils multiple social relations and reaffirms the order of nation states.
This state-centred perspective is complimented by a sedentary predisposition. Flight is perceived as linear, bi-directional migration: a unity of departure and return between two locations, the county of origin and the receiving country of the refugee. In this interpretation, the country of origin alone is 'home' and the return to it is everybody's right. UNHCR for instance considers refugees' local integration or resettlement in a third-country only if their voluntary repatriation to the country of origin is unattainable. The term 'dis-placement' itself expresses the imagination of people naturally belonging to a specific location, where they are rooted and remain. Therefore, all durable solutions imply the permanent settlement of refugees. They are based on the idea that a solution is only found once mobility ends. Even temporary solutions like self-settlement or refugee camps are usually associated with immobility. The right to movement is indeed often strictly limited for refugees living in camps.
In contrast, mobility and transnational networks constitute important strategies of coping for many refugees, in particular in protracted refugee situations. Forms of organisation like exile and diaspora are examined as expressions of the transnational lives of refugees. Mobility is also in many cases a mode of life for people before they become refugees. Thus, static concepts of 'return' and 'home' are criticised. Return to the country of origin is not the 'end of the refugee cycle' but often the beginning of another lengthy integration process, and possibly even the start of repeated 'dis-placement'. Due to political, social, economic and cultural transformations, the former 'home' does not remain how refugees left it. In addition, refugees undergo personal changes, which are discernible upon return. Yet, the image of speedy return is deeply anchored in the mind of international refugee regime's stakeholders and of refugees themselves. However, in reality, one third of all refugees worldwide live in protracted refugee situations.
In this context, refugee camps are of particular relevance. In the course of their long existence they have turned into spaces in which people have built neighbourhoods, earn their living and raise their children. Nonetheless, specific rules and power relations govern them. Moreover, refugee camps are situated in local contexts that create, not least from spatial proximity, insider/outsider relationships as well as economic interactions between the established population and refugees. Yet, urban refugees, especially in the case of mass refugee movements, can transform the social, economic and political structure of accommodating communities and cities, even of whole countries as in the current case of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Thus, receiving societies become part of transnational networks and forced migration.
In consideration of these issues, we are particularly interested in original contributions about the following topics:
- Which transnational migration strategies and networks exist?
- What should be made of the usual distinction between voluntary and forced migration?
- The path of flight is in many cases not uni-directional and direct. At times, refugees undertake multiple attempts to reach the envisioned destination: What does it mean to flee for months if not years?
- What is the relevance of return for transnationally mobile refugees and which concepts of home and belonging do they develop? How are return polices implemented and what imaginations of belonging are they based upon?
- How do refugees relate different location meanings to one another? What role do concepts like 'exile' and 'diaspora' play? How do returnees refer to experiences in their previous societies of refuge?
- How does flight impact views of those left behind? How do those displaced relate to those who stayed behind?
- How do economic, power and other social relations work in refugee camp contexts?
- How does the refugee regime work on global, national and regional levels? What interests does it serve and how do the different levels relate?
- How do forced migrants make use of the refugee regime? Which options are provided? Which new belongings are created?
Please submit manuscripts in either German or English by 6 January 2015 to: [log in to unmask]
Selected English contributions will be translated into German for publication.
Dr. J. Olaf Kleist
German Research Foundation (DFG) Research Fellow
Refugee Studies Centre, Department of International Development
University of Oxford, 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3TB
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