Friday, June 18, 2010

Nitza Nachmias and Goldstein Rami (ed.) The Politics of Forced Migration: Conceptual, Operational and Legal Analysis (Publish America, USA: 2004)

Sucharita Sengupta
[Research Associate at the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group]

Forced Migration - its causes, implications and challenges continue to pose serious threat to nation states, their sovereignty and governability. Lacunas can still be sighted amidst the efforts by different International Organizations in providing aid to the displaced. Worst perhaps is the political implication that often leads to unequal distribution of aid and rehabilitation following a forced eviction. Even more vulnerable is the condition of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who suffer from a lack of comprehensive policy and continue to live within the jurisdiction of the state in which they were displaced. Often they lack adequate infrastructure to cross borders towards a new destination. Hence, all these factors, combined, call for a renewed analysis of the conceptual, operational and legal frameworks of terms like ‘Forced Migration’, ‘Refugees’ and ‘IDPs’.

This is precisely what Nitza Nachmias and Rami Goldstein have attempted, by compiling a wide array of issues in the various chapters of the book entitled The Politics of Forced Migration: Conceptual, Operational and Legal Analysis. The authors through the chapters of the book argue in favour of a new international legal paradigm. Roberta Cohen writes in the Foreword that there is need of a better international system which would be able to address many of the humanitarian emergencies that today’s world produces, specifically millions of uprooted people (pg 12). She elucidates further, that the problem of IDPs is much larger than that of the refugees as the number of IDPs has steadily increased over the years. A new international system is needed to deal strictly with state sovereignty. She further goes on to say that there are some inherent problems with the 1951 Refugee Convention which again reaffirm the need for a new and a more active international system. The Convention, Cohen continues, is inadequate in the present scenario since it “is based on fear of persecution” (pg-13) which fails to capture the refugee experience in the present scenario. During the mid sixties, the 1951 Convention was unable to address majority of the refugees assisted by the UNHCR. So the need of a new approach is hardly over emphasized.

The book is divided into three halves. The first deals with concepts and theories related to ‘Forced Migration’, the second puts these theories into practice by studying various cases and the third examines the possibility of future prospects and constraints of ‘Forced Migration’.

Chapters One to Four put together four theoretical essays stressing on the need of humanitarian interventions and their outcomes. Key concepts like ‘right to return’, ‘resettlement’ and ‘repatriation’ are central to the problem of Forced Migration and hence analysed in these four chapters. Allan James starts his essay “Analytical Observations on Forced Migration” by exploring the meaning of the term ‘Forced Migration’. Ample ambiguity prevails around the meaning of the term. There are a number of reasons for which people are forced to migrate but whether all these fall under this broad concept forms the crux of the chapter. James enumerates the different times when people are compelled to leave their ‘home’ like when they are at gun point, when they fear a threat to life or in case of a civil war (pg 39). However the problem lies in a lack of consensus regarding the causes of Forced Migration and its implications in humanitarian intervention. Problems also arise with questions as to what extent these interventions could be allowed so that they do not infringe upon the sovereignty of states.

James has meticulously put forward his arguments but some of the arguments could have been better substantiated through exemplification, particularly when he is explaining in detail the various causes of forced migration (pgs 40-45). Again to state, “… forced migration seems to be a recurring feature in human history. One must not overemphasize this; it by no means dominates the scene…” (pg 61) is really problematic. Forced migration, particularly internal displacement is a persistent problem and is a serious concern to many states.

Leon Gordenker in the second chapter “Review of the International Rules and issues in the treatment of refugees” further extends the arguments of James to expand on the problems of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Along with presenting a critic of the Convention, he examines different institutional safeguards formulated for the refugees. The most interesting part of Gordenker’s essay is his analysis of the political maneuvers in rendering the status of ‘refugee’ to any persons. According to the international definition of a refugee the ‘fear’ of persecution must be well-founded to justify his migration and provide him ‘asylum’ for being a refugee (pg-71). Gordenker rightly questions that the problem is who examines this extent of fear? He also like James argues in favour of an “assertive intervention”, often at the expense of sovereignty of States but also highlights the risks of conflicts that can arise out of it.

Abby Stoddard in “Every One’s and No One’s: IDPs, Refugees, and the Politics of Aiding the displaced” clearly calls for a new paradigm. She argues that there is a need to revise and reevaluate the performance of the existing International organizations in providing support to the victims following a forced migration. Her essay reflects concern over the crisis of the IDPs and that they should also be treated at par with the refugees. The Donor States, especially USA, the largest donor state should consolidate a clear and comprehensive policy for the IDPs. “Possibly the most striking feature of the international efforts on IDPs, is that the donors have largely been left out of the equation” (pg-97) and this needs to be revised. Claudena M. Skran also opines a need for a new legal infrastructure that would ensure a higher involvement in the protection of refugees and the host countries from terrorism in her chapter “Paradigm Shift In International Refugee Assistance”. She explains that the ‘neutrality’ that the international organizations have practiced so far mainly in respect to the IDPs is fallacious and more active intervention is the call of the day. The common thread that runs through all the essays in the first half is stress on ‘humanitarian intervention’. This is also dangerous by implication especially when it is equated with military intervention.

The second half of the book deals with various case studies. Four case studies have been documented - Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and the Middle East (Palestinian refugees). Each case study starts by sketching a brief history of the country which is the moot cause of the subsequent turmoil forceful eviction of a large number of people. Like as in the case of Afghanistan, Arnie Strand and Petter Bauck narrate the transition of the Country from one political power to the other which has led to the emergence of Mujahideens (pg 145). The chapter connects the present day refugee challenge in Afghanistan to the history of the Afghan society. A similar kind of narration can be traced in chapters 8, 9 and 10 which deal with the crises of the Palestinian refugees. Their situation is also different from other refuges as they are denied the much contested “the right to return”. The essays reflect the trauma that the Palestinians are still going through following their mass eviction in 1948 and 1967. Part three of the book suggests the possibilities for the future, the role of the ‘civil society’ which has gained momentum from the 1980s and future challenges for the International Organizations.

The book has a unique style of narration. The flow of words is lucid and to the point. Headings and subheadings make the reading even more user friendly. The book has covered a lot of challenging issues and despite its bias towards military interventions; it is able to provide solutions to a lot of problems associated with Forced Migration. Its particular concern towards the IDPs and politics that can hamper the rehabilitation process also makes it a very useful reading.


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