Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Introduction for the I Edition, 2012

Ishita Dey and Sahana Basavapatna

How does one assess the achievements of the last 60 years of the functioning of refugee protection regime? UNHCR celebrated 60 years of its functioning in December 2011, a year that was marked by a number of developments, including the financial crisis engulfing Europe and the Australia-Malaysia swap arrangement that virtually made a joke out of the international protection regime. From the perspective of a refugee or a stateless individual, the last few years and the years to come therefore have to be seen in context. As Luise Druke explains in a contribution made to the New Issues in Refugee Research, the challenges that have been identified in the past remain. These include the “mixed flows”, deteriorating quality of asylum world wide, disillusionment about the aspects of the 1951 Convention, serious gaps and strains in the protection system generally (p. 10).

The tasks therefore are cut out. Europe is still reeling under one of the worst economic crisis, West Asia plunged into political crisis that was waiting to happen and Asia and Africa have also not seen “stable democracies” given the last few years of political violence they have had to face. At the risk of repetition, the world, if at all, has not become any safe for refugees and if 80 per cent of refugees is said to be in the Asia and Africa without the burden being shared with the more industrialized nations, there is little to rejoice.

Thus, for us at Refugee Watch Online, the task remains the same. The task of documenting stories from the ground that would, it is believed, add to the knowledge of how refugees are cared for, how they use or escape the legal systems and how informal networks step in to “protect”. Refugees would continue to work the system in ensuring that they are recognized, and once they are recognized they are either able to return to their countries when the political situation allows or travel to more secure countries where they are assured of a future for themselves and their children.

Closer home, not much has changed in South Asia. The debate about who is a genuine refugee remains and perhaps this would be so as long as the nation building project finds relevance. What kind of protection refugees should be entitled to equally remains. All that can be hoped is that migration is understood and accepted not just as a “security” issue but as a more complex phenomen that is tied to the region's political history.

We have four contributions in this issue of Refugee Watch Online. In the section on Perspectives, Rohit Jain, the young photojounalist, shares with us yet another photo essay, focusing on the Somali refugees living in Delhi. Interestingly, the Somalis, want to return home, despite knowing fully well that they will not survive the political violence. The essay is a peep into the world of the Somalis as they try each day to survive against discrimination, racism and poverty. We thought it apt to include a link to the story on Somali refugees recently published in the Guardian in the section on News titled After the famine: Somalia's refugees ponder their future by Clar Ni Chonghaile dated January 30, 2012 who describes the life in Camps in Somalia after famine was declared last year. One needs to question why Somalis in India want to go back home when the situation is nowhere close to providing them a sense of security, that many would argue India provides, even at a minimum. Considering how little the lives of African refugees are studied in India, this calls for a closer investigation. The third contribution is an interview with R. Laldawnglians, Vice President and Bruno M, General Secretary of Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum by one of the editorial board members, Ishita Dey conducted in December 2011 during the Ninth Winter Course on Forced Migration. The Bru “refugees” who have lived in South Mizoram have for long been caught between Tripura and Mizoram where the former does not want them to return and the latter wants them to leave the state. Lastly in the section on Reports we wish to highlight a recent report of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Committee titled “This is our land”: Ethnic violence and Internal displacement in north-east India” published in November 2011. It focuses on internal displacement in three contexts, in the states of Assam and Meghalaya in December 2010 and January 2011, in Western Assam during the 1990s and 2000s and from Mizoram to Tripura state in 1997 and 2009. While calling for a law that would address internal displacement that has now become commonplace in the context of the north east, the report observes, “The responses by government authorities, including state and central government agencies, to the different displacement situations caused by generalised violence in north-east India have been ad hoc, inconsistent and often inadequate. Generally, state-level responses have not been based on comprehensive assessments of the needs of either recent or longer-term IDPs, but on political factors including local demographics, the variable interests of the central government, and different levels of media attention. In all cases their decisions were dominated by short-term considerations rather than an emphasis on long-term solutions.”

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