Academic journal article Global Governance

North-South Cooperation in the Refugee Regime:the Role of Linkages

Academic journal article Global Governance

North-South Cooperation in the Refugee Regime:the Role of Linkages

Article excerpt

This article explores the role of issue linkage in North-South relations in the global refugee regime between 1980 and 2005. It argues that North-South cooperation has been crucial for overcoming collective action failure in the regime. However, it suggests that because of the absence of a binding normative framework or overriding interest impelling Northern states to support refugee protection in the South, the prospects for overcoming North-South impasse have depended upon the ability of states and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to use issue linkage to connect the "refugee issue" to states' wider interests in other issue areas of global governance--notably migration, security, development, and peacebuilding. The article makes this argument by examining the four principal case studies of UNHCR-led attempts to facilitate North-South cooperation in order to address mass influx or protracted refugee situations in specific regional contexts: the International Conferences on Assistance to Refugees in Africa of 1981 and 1984; the International Conference on Central American Refugees of 1987-1994; the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese Refugees of 1987-1994; the comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese of 1988-1996; and the Convention Plus initiative of 2003-2005. KEYWORDS: refugees, North-South, issue linkage, UNHCR, international cooperation.

There has been little attempt by academics to apply international relations theory to understand the refugee regime.1 Nevertheless, the limited existing literature draws upon regime theory to argue that the refugee regime is inevitably characterized by collective action failure because contributions to refugee protection represent a global public good.2 However, this literature has two central limitations: first, it fails to account for the centrality of North-South relations in reference to refugee protection; second, it tends to see the refugee regime in isolation, divorced from other issue areas of global governance. Yet exploring these dimensions is crucial to understanding the prospects for multilateral cooperation on refugee issues. Rather than being characterized by the game theoretical analogy of Prisoner's Dilemma, as the existing literature claims, collective action failure has often been based on a specifically North-South impasse, more appropriately represented by the analogy of a "suasion game" situation. Drawing upon the international relations theory literature on issue linkages, this article argues that the refugee regime has historically been embedded in wider North-South relations and that the interconnections between the refugee regime and these wider relations in other issue areas has been the basis on which this impasse has historically been overcome. In particular, cooperation has relied on the creation of a credible linkage by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) between the "refugee issue" and states' perceived interests in other related issue areas--notably in migration, security, development, and peacebuilding.

To make this argument, I use a combination of archive research and interviews to analyze the main UNHCR-led initiatives to promote North-South cooperation in relation to regional mass influx or protracted refugee situations between 1980 and 2005. The discussion is divided into three sections. The first explains briefly why North-South cooperation is an important issue worth considering at all in relation to forced migration. The second part develops a theoretical argument, introducing the concept of issue linkages and its role in North-South relations. The third section, which is empirical, explores the relevance of the theoretical argument in relation to the four principal attempts by UNHCR to develop initiatives to foster North-South cooperation to address mass influx or protracted refugee situations: the International Conferences on Assistance to Refugees in Africa (ICARA I and II) of 1981 and 1984, the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) for Indo-Chinese Refugees of 1988-1996, the International Conference on Central American Refugees (CIREFCA) of 1987-1994, and the Convention Plus initiative of 2003-2005. …

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