Friday, June 18, 2010

World Refugee Day Special June 2010

Priyanca Mathur Velath
[member of IASFM, APRRN and an active researcher-writer on policy & politics of forced migration. She is completing her doctoral research at CLSG, J.N.U, New Delhi]


Huerta Muller, the German-speaking Romanian Nobel Laureate, in her 2009 Prize acceptance speech titled ‘Every word knows something of a vicious circle’ had said, “What can’t be said can be written. Because writing is a silent act, a labor from the head to the hand.” The Swedish Academy described her as a writer “who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.” Muller, in her prize winning novel of ‘Land of the Green Plums’ described stagnant daily life in a dictatorship and the silent cruelty and terror of Communist Romania under the repressive Nicolae Ceausescu. To protect her freedom of speech she was able to emigrate to Germany in 1987 after years of persecution and censorship in Romania.

But there is a difference in being ‘able’ to flee and being ‘forced’ to flee. Millions of people across the globe continue to face persecution and are forced to flee their homes to save their lives. While ability to prove ‘persecution’ grants refugee status, being forced to flee for economic reasons gives one only the tag of an ‘economic migrant’. While crossing a national border makes one a ‘refugee’ and grants one access to the international refugee protection regime, the inability to do so leaves ‘internally displaced persons’ at the mercy of the state that displaced them. Labels and legal frameworks, state policies and international systems all operate with huge gaps and grey areas. Muller’s silent act of writing is perhaps the only way to continuously push forward the rights agenda in forced migration.

So, to commemorate ‘World Refugee Day’ on June 20, 2010, Refugee Watch Online has compiled a special issue with writings from eminent researchers, activists and journalists from across South Asia that highlight the plight of those without a ‘Home’ in this region. The Indian subcontinent that witnessed the world’s largest refugee flow ever across the borders of India and Pakistan in 1947, has also been home to refugees from Tibet, Burma, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and even Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Sudan and Eritrea. Refugee issues in South Asia are not just challenging in their varied geographical nature but also in diversity and multiplicity of causes and politics associated with them. The challenge to try and bring them all together under one canvas was huge. Nonetheless this Special Issue has tried.

While M. Peter Jayprakash elaborates on the diabolical ‘Antithetical Power Relations’ in India, Sudeep Basu reflects on the Tibetan ‘Paradigm of Exile’. Bertil Lintner has discoursed widely and deeply on ‘Conflict and Displacement in Burma’, while Subir Bhaumik has deliberated on the ‘Nobody’s People in Noman’s Land’ i.e. the Rohingyas. The UNHCR Office in New Delhi has also sent us a write-up highlighting their operations and the ‘Protection Challenges and Emerging Opportunities’ of refugee urbanisation. Incidentally the UNHCRs Urban Refugee Policy of 2009 has been criticized by much of the NGO and activist community for merely containing UN-speak on gender-mainstreaming and not particularly addressing the specific concerns of women and children at risk. Uttam Kumar Das also critiques the operations of the UNHCR in Bangladesh while elaborating on the refugee situation in that country that he labels as ‘Managing Refugees in a Mess.’ We are also expecting two more articles from Sri Lanka and Pakistan which we hope to upload over the weekend.

This issue along with events and news highlighted also has a review of the book ‘The Politics of Forced Migration: Conceptual, Operational and Legal Analysis’ edited by Nitza Nachmias and Goldstein Rami by Sucharita Sengupta.

The recent refugee crisis in Kyrgyzstan has yet again highlighted the growing regional ethnic disparities and dictatorial actions that continue to separate man from mankind. While current developments in forced migration research suggest that state fragility and forced migration, the economics of forced migration, environmental displacement, displaced groups with specific needs, and durable solutions are the areas for immediate relevance, the only overriding and essential emotion that can assuage any hurt and begin bridge any gaps is an acceptance of and tolerance towards the ‘Other’. It is only then that refugees around the world will truly begin to celebrate World Refugee Day themselves.


1 See upcoming report of the 2nd Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network’s Conference that was held in Bangkok in 2009.

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