Refugees in International Relations

Refugees in International Relations

Refugees in International Relations

Refugees in International Relations


Refugees lie at the heart of world politics. The causes and consequences of, and responses to, human displacement are intertwined with many of the core concerns of International Relations. Yet, scholars of International Relations have generally bypassed the study of refugees, and Forced Migration Studies has generally bypassed insights from International Relations. This volume therefore represents an attempt to bridge the divide between these disciplines, and to place refugees within the mainstream of International Relations. Drawing together the work and ideas of a combination of the world's leading and emerging International Relations scholars, the volume considers what the disciplines can offer our understanding of the international politics of forced migration. The insights draw from across the theoretical spectrum of IR from realism to critical theory to feminism, covering issues including international cooperation, security, and the international political economy. They engage with some of the most challenging political and practical questions in contemporary forced migration, including peacebuilding, post-conflict reconstruction, and state building. The result is a set of highly original chapters, yielding not only new concepts of wider relevance to IR but also insights for academics, policy-makers, and practitioners working on forced migration in particular and humanitarianism in general.


Hedley Bull, the pre-eminent British scholar of international relations during the 1970s and early 1980s, wrote and lectured widely on international relations. His interests spanned practically the entire field of international politics at that time: nuclear strategy, development issues, ethics, justice and international affairs, the United Nations and international institutions, and world society, order, and authority.

While we were preparing the manuscript for this book, Claudena Skran, a former student of Bull’s, brought to our attention a previously unpublished paper of his entitled ‘Population and the Present World Structure’ written some time in the early 1980s. She told us that during her time at Oxford, he showed an interest in the refugee issue in international relations and encouraged students to undertake research on the topic. For example, in 1983 he prepared a list of possible topics for graduate research students at Oxford. On that list was ‘the refugee problem in world politics’. It seems he had become interested in refugees because of their connection to development topics and because of the African refugee issues at that time.

Claudena also recounted visiting Bull at his home in north Oxford in 1985 just a few weeks before he died. He was quite ill then, but was still seeing students and giving advice. Among the things he discussed with her was the conflict in Biafra. Claudena recounts that Bull told her that the Ibos had paid a very high price for order in that civil war. While she could not remember the rest of the conversation exactly, the meaning that she took away from their meeting was that refugees were connected to broader issues relating to order and justice and that forced migration was worthy of study and attention by both graduate students and advanced scholars in international relations.

Bull’s paper ‘Population and the Present World Structure’ reflects his interest in development, injustice, and the inequality between the Global North and Global South.

The paper also discusses the significance of migration and refugee issues. in particular, Bull recognized the importance of strategic, political, and economic causes underlying most population movements. He lists as the primary causes: anti-colonial struggles, conflicts in newly independent states, ethnic cleansing, internal conflicts and foreign intervention, and human rights violations. Migration also occurs because of inequalities between the Global North and Global South with regard to economic conditions and opportunities, social well-being, and access to liberty and freedoms.

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