Academic journal article Refuge

Refugee Policy after September 11: Not Much New

Academic journal article Refuge

Refugee Policy after September 11: Not Much New

Article excerpt


Conventional wisdom holds that the terrorist attacks of September 11 have changed everything. "In the case of refugee policy, it would appear the salience of security and enforcement aspects has increased at the expense of human rights and humanitarian concerns. In the light of actual practices in the immigration and refugee security field in recent years, there is actually more continuity than discontinuity resulting from the current crisis. Existing standards and procedures are confirmed, rather than altered, by new legislation and practices. Refugee policies have increasingly been understood within a national security discourse, well before September 11.


La sagesse traditionnelle pretend que les attentats terroristes du 11 septembre ont << tout change >>. Pour ce qui est de la politique ayant trait aux refugies, il semblerait que les considerations de securite et d'application de la loi ont pris le pas sur les droits de la personne et les preoccupations humanitaires. En fait, si l'on considere la pratique sur le terrain en ce qu'il s'agit des mesures de securite liees a l'immigration et aux refugies, on retrouve bien plus de continuite que de discontinuite a la suite de la crise actuelle. La nouvelle legislation, ainsi que les nouvelles procedures, confirment les normes existantes plutot que de les changer. Les politiques concernant les refugies sort de plus en plus comprises a l'interieur dun discours de security rationale et cela etait le cas bien avant le 11 septembre.

In the aftermath of September 11, it was conventional journalistic wisdom that the world had changed forever. Certain events do have profound repercussions. Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into a global military and diplomatic presence from which it has never really retreated. September 11 has obviously precipitated a "war on terrorism," the attack on and overthrow of the Taliban regime, and a new global counterterrorist campaign that steps up U.S. intervention in a host of countries to unprecedented levels. September 11 has dramatically reconfigured government agendas in the U.S. and among its allies, including Canada. New laws that redraw the lines between individual and group rights on the one hand and security on the other have been rapidly passed in a number of Western countries.

There is no point in denying the depth and the scope of the changes that September 11 has wrought. But there is a danger of exaggerating the transformation. It further bloats the already overblown reputations of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to speak as if this handful of suicide bombers caused by themselves the wholesale transformation of Western societies and governments. To revert for a moment to Pearl Harbor, the forces that compelled America into a new global role were not only external, but arose from within America itself. Pearl Harbor discredited the isolationists overnight and empowered the interventionists, but this was made possible by the very real strength and reach of the interventionist and expansionary forces themselves. Pearl Harbor precipitated a resolution of a deep conflict within the U.S. state and society, rapidly accelerating and compressing a process that was already underway, and had been for some time.

As a formative event, September 11 displays similar contours. There were forces and processes at work within the U.S. and the West, some previously impeded, that have been unblocked and accelerated by September 11. September 11 precipitated the resolution of a number of conflicts already in existence. But the long-term changes effected by September 11 were those that corresponded to interests and forces that had shown considerable strength before September 11. In that sense we might say that September 11 was more a precipitating than a formative event.

Let me be more specific. The post-Cold War world had been witnessing a gathering set of contradictions surrounding the process of globalization. …

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