Friday, July 22, 2016

Workshop on Power and Influence in the Global Refugee Regime, 23 to 25 September 2015, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada: A Report

Sreya Sen

(Sreya Sen is a Doctoral Fellow at University of Calcutta. She participated in the workshop as an International Student Rapporteur along with Dacia Douhaibi (York University).)

A workshop on “Power and Influence in the Global Refugee Regime” was organized by the Migration and Diaspora Studies Initiative at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada from 23 to 25 September 2015. The workshop considered how power and influence may be observed and studied within the global refugee regime before taking into consideration the influence of various states, international organizations, NGOs and other actors within the global refugee regime.

The workshop took off with the presentation of a background paper on “Understanding Power and Influence in the Global Refugee Regime” by workshop host Dr. James Milner, Professor of Political Science, Carleton University. The paper drew from literature on global governance and international regimes and proposed analytical tools which may explain or be used to observe power and influence in the global refugee regime. It also presented a framework for understanding power and influence in the global refugee regime that would stimulate discussion over the three days of the workshop.

The workshop then proceeded to consider the role of various actors and their influence within the global refugee regime, beginning with states such as the US, Australia, India and also looked at the role of a number of non-state actors. (UNHCR, IOM, NGOs). The first session of the workshop was chaired by Martin Geiger (Carleton University) and began with Gil Loescher (University of Oxford) giving a talk on “The History of UNHCR’s Changing Power and Influence”. His paper explored the history of the UNHCR’s changing influence and power in the global refugee regime over the past sixty years, looking at under what circumstances and where, the UNHCR had influenced decisions concerning refugee assistance and protection. Jeff Crisp (University of Oxford) spoke about “UNHCR and the Global Refugee Policy Process”, examining the processes through which policies are formulated within the UNHCR and the various factors which influence the evaluation and implementation of these policies. Megan Bradley (McGill University) presented on “IOM: What role in the forced migration regime?” She looked at the factors which explain the dramatic growth of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) since 1988 and the relevance of this growth for the global forced migration regime.

The second session of the workshop was chaired by Christina Clark-Kazak (York University) and started with Susan Martin (Georgetown University) speaking about “The Case of the US”, considering the experience of the USA with regard to influence and power in refugee and forced migration issues. She also considered if the USA can indeed be regarded as a hegemon where the global refugee regime is concerned. Her talk was followed by a presentation from Susan Kneebone (Monash University) on “The Case of Australia” , stressing on the Australian policy of commodifying refugee protection and arguing how such a policy can negatively impact refugee protection and resettlement at the International level. Ranabir Samaddar (Calcutta Research Group) then examined “The Case of India”, by looking at refugee flows into India since its independence and the influence this has had on India’s position in the global refugee regime. Through a discussion of the inherent contradictions that exist in state policies toward asylum and refugees in India, Dr. Samaddar considered how India’s experience with refugees has positioned it to offer a post colonial interrogation of the global refugee regime. This was followed by a roundtable that featured discussion with NGO representatives involved in different stages of the global refugee policy process. Some of the participants in this roundtable discussion were Jessie Thomson (Care, Canada) and Ann Witteveen (Oxfam, Canada). The roundtable was moderated by James Milner (Carleton University) and entailed an analysis of the role played by non-governmental organizations in the global refugee regime by reflecting on important questions such as whether or not the ability of NGO’s to influence global refugee policy is conditioned by their operational experience, and can the increasing prominence of NGO’s determine their influence over implementing global refugee policy at the local level.

In its third session, chaired by Elissa Golberg (Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, Government of Canada), the workshop looked at if states, IOs and NGOs are, in fact, the only core actors in global regimes. Alexander Betts (University of Oxford) started by entering into a detailed discussion of “The Influence of New Actors in the Global Refugee Regime”, illustrating the influence exercised by the private sector, refugee diaspora groups and epistemic communities in important instances of decision making as well as implementation in the global refugee regime. His paper drew from literature on global governance to highlight the significance of such examples. This was followed by a more detailed examination of the case of Canada’s experience in the global refugee regime. Mike Molloy (Canadian Immigration Historical Society and University of Ottawa) presented a paper on “Canada’s History with the Global Refugee Regime: 1950’s to 1990’s”, identifying factors and themes that explained its leadership over the course of these years. These themes were then applied to events when Canada was able to either exercise or not exercise its influence in the global refugee regime. James Milner (Carleton University), the official discussant for this paper, drew on recent examples of Canadian leadership in the regime in his response to Mike Molloy, such as the unlocking of Bhutanese PRS in Nepal and the 2009 Excom Conclusion on Protracted Refugee Situations, in addition to the promotion of strategic uses of resettlement, to consider the validity of arguments made by Molloy with regard to Canada’s role in the global refugee regime in the new millennium.

The fourth session of the workshop was chaired by Megan Bradley (McGill University), and began with a presentation by Jennifer Hyndman (York University), who raised some important questions in her paper on “Resettlement Diplomacy”, wondering how strategic resettlement has worked, if at all, in the past and what new or additional spaces of refugee care and protection are generated when the two economies of refugee assistance - Canadian support for humanitarian aid overseas and refugee resettlement to Canada, are integrated and considered together. Some preliminary responses were then offered by her, to these questions, through an examination of the Canadian experience at home and abroad. Francois Audet and Catherine Lune Grayson (Universite de Quebec a Montreal) gave a talk on “Understanding Canada’s Financial Contributions to the UNHCR”, looking at what motivates the quality and quantity of contributions made by Canada to the UNHCR and also arguing how a comprehensive understanding of these financial contributions could inform ones understanding of Canada’s influence over the global refugee regime. The workshop concluded with a presentation by Janet Dench (Canadian Council for Refugees) on “Canada in the Global Refugee Regime: The Perspective of Civil Society” where she considered Canada’s changing status within the global refugee regime, through an engagement with different civil society organizations in various countries as well as from the perspective of Canadian civil society.

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