Academic journal article Global Governance

Survival Migration: A New Protection Framework

Academic journal article Global Governance

Survival Migration: A New Protection Framework

Article excerpt

The modern refugee regime, created in the aftermath of World War II, provides protection mainly to people who flee individualized persecution or generalized violence. Subsequent to its creation, a range of new drivers of external displacement--particularly related to the interaction of environmental change, livelihood collapse, and state fragility--have emerged that fall outside the framework of the regime. In order to examine institutional responses to these people, this article develops the concept of survival migration, which describes people who have left their country of origin because of an existential threat for which they have no domestic remedy. It examines six case studies of national and international institutional responses to survival migrants from Zimbabwe, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which fall outside the 1951 Refugee Convention. Based on a conceptual model of regime stretching, the article offers an explanation for variation in the extent to which the existing global regime has adapted to address survival migration in different national contexts. KEYWORDS: survival migration, regime stretching, refugees, Africa, human rights, complementary protection.


IN THE MODERN STATE SYSTEM, THE STATE RETAINS ULTIMATE RESPONSIBILITY for ensuring the human rights of its citizens. Sometimes, the relationship between state and citizen breaks down and states are unable or unwilling to provide the rights of their citizens. The underlying purpose of the refugee regime is to ensure that the international community provides substitute protection for people who flee their country of origin because their own state is unwilling or unable to ensure access to their most fundamental rights.

In the early 1950s, at the inception of the modem refugee regime in the European context, the main reasons for a need for substitute protection were based around individualized persecution. In Africa and Latin America, this has been supplemented by the recognition that generalized violence and public disorder may also necessitate substitute protection. Increasingly, the reasons that sanctuary is needed have changed. Today, the combination of environmental disaster, state fragility, and livelihood failure frequently interact in ways that create a need for protection.

The mass exodus of people from Zimbabwe between 2005 and 2009, with some 2 million entering South Africa alone, represents the most visible recent case of people with an obvious need for international protection, but who have generally been seen as in a neither-nor position of not being refugees yet not being voluntary, economic migrants. (1) However, this type of situation is not unique. In Haiti, Iraq, North Korea, and Myanmar, for example, significant numbers of people have fled to neighboring countries not because of a well-founded fear of individualized persecution, but more often because of serious deprivations of socioeconomic rights related to the underlying political situation.

In the context of climate change and discussion of "environmental displacement," there is increasing recognition that new sources of external displacement will require the existing refugee regime to be supplemented in some way to ensure adequate international protection. Most so-called slow-onset environmental displacement, however, is not monocausal, but generally based on the complex interaction of the environment with other factors--notably, livelihoods and state fragility--and it is this broader context in which there is an institutional gap.

Despite emerging recognition of the new drivers of external displacement, states and international institutions generally continue to see the world largely in terms of the economic migrant/refugee dichotomy. Either people who cross borders are perceived as falling within the framework of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Refugee Convention) or, with few exceptions, they are viewed as being returnable and without protection needs. …

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