From Political Instrument to Protection Tool? Resettlement of Refugees and North-South Relations

By Bessa, Thais | Refuge, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

From Political Instrument to Protection Tool? Resettlement of Refugees and North-South Relations


Bessa, Thais, Refuge


Abstract

Lacking a clear legal definition, the conceptualization and application of durable solutions have been highly influenced by states' interests that were often at odds with humanitarian concerns on refugee protection. During the Cold War resettlement was perceived as the preferred durable solution, although it was selectively applied to different refugee crises in the South. With the asylum crisis in the 1980s and the end of the Cold War, a new agenda of containment emerged as Northern countries' interest in receiving refugees declined. During the 1990s voluntary repatriation emerged as a new preferred solution and there was an effort to redefine and adapt resettlement to a new context. This process focused on detaching resettlement from its previous political and immigration character and redefining it as an exclusive protection tool and instrument of international co-operation. Hence, resettlement in the post--Cold War era is characterized by depoliticization, a smaller number of beneficiaries, and geographic expansion. However, it is important to critically question whether such depoliticization has happened in fact, the reasons behind it, and its relation to North-South politics and containment strategies.

Resume

Faute d'une definition juridique claire, la conceptualisation et l'application de solutions durables a la reinstallation ont ete fortement influencees par des interets etatiques souvent en contradiction avec les preoccupations hurnanitaires sur la protection des refugies. Durant la guerre froide, la reinstallation paraissait la solution durable la plus souhaitable, bien quappliquee de facon ponctuelle aux differentes crises de refugies dans le Sud. Un nouveau programme de confinement apparait lors de la crise de l'asile des annees 1980 et la fin de la guerre froide quand diminue la volonte des pays du Nord a accueillir les demandeurs d'asile. Le rapatriement volontaire apparait au cours des annees 1990 comine nouvelle solution de preference. On tente alors de redefinir la reinstallation et de l'adapter au nouveau contexte. Ce processus est axe sur une rupture de la reinstallation avec ses aspects politique et migratoire precedents et sa redefinition en tant qubutil exclusif de protection et instrument de la cooperation internationale. Ainsi, la reinstallation a l'ere de l'apres-guerre froide se caracterise par la depolitisation, la reduction du nombre de beneficiaires et l'expansion geographique. Toutefois, il est essentiel de determiner de facon critique si cette depolitisation s'est reellement faite, les raisons qui la sous-tendent et sa relation a la politique Nord-Sud et aux strategies de confinement.

Introduction

Research and policy making in forced migration commonly refer to the concept of durable solutions and its three options: local integration, resettlement, and voluntary repatriation. However, these concepts find loose support from legal instruments and are mainly derived from the regular practice of states and international organizations. Consequently, they are embedded in a complex set of political, economic, and strategic interests that often go far beyond humanitarian concerns on refugees' protection. In that sense, the use of resettlement, especially in North-South relations, has changed from the Cold War period to the present, allegedly evolving from a political instrument to a protection tool. The present paper will examine the question that although the very concept of "refugee" is intimately linked to political upheavals and interests, the way refuges have been dealt with (i.e. the durable solutions offered) has been influenced by different explicit and implicit interests that have varied over rime in speech and practice.

As the present refugee regime was initially designed in the early days of the Cold War, the lack of a precise definition of durable solutions and the relationship between them enabled states to manipulate their use according to political, economic, and ideological interests.

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