Academic journal article Refuge

Power and Responsibility at the Margins: The Case of India in the Global Refugee Regime

Academic journal article Refuge

Power and Responsibility at the Margins: The Case of India in the Global Refugee Regime

Article excerpt

Power, Influence, and Responsibility

In any discussion on power and influence in the global refugee regime, one crucial question to emerge from Indian experiences that reflects worldwide post-colonial experiences is, What is the nature of this power and influence at the margins? This question is important because, unlike the Kantian world, the world we live in is characterized by a great dissociation of power and responsibility. Wars may be launched on countries by great powers, but the burdens of refugee flows that wars create are shouldered by countries that had little to do with them. Wars in and population flows from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Libya readily come to mind, as do the Vietnam War and disintegration of Yugoslavia twenty years later, followed by massive refugee flows. Millions of Partition refugees in South Asia had little to do with the colonial decision to divide the Indian subcontinent. Yet through all these years the global refugee regime never questioned this dissociation--primarily for two reasons. First, in the age of democracy, responsibility is understood to rest with the people, who must conduct themselves responsibly to prove that they are masters of their destiny; in other words, they self-determine, while in reality power is exercised by the corporate class. Second, international responsibility is exercised by the nation-states, while power is vested in transnational agencies and empires who exercise power without responsibility. In this situation of graded responsibility and the hierarchical history of the notion of responsibility, it is important to inquire about the nature of power and responsibility at the margins.

In discussions on power, the context of protection is of primary importance, for we are discussing how the function of protection, the ability to protect, a specific mode of care produces power, which is both positive and dominating. This article will unravel this dual nature of power.

Also there remains one more introductory point. The so-called regime of protection cannot address displacement due to war. The present massive refugee flows are not marked by mere discrimination or liminal violence, but brutal war. The 1951 Convention barely touches the problem. It refers to war in the context of the Second World War, or to rule out protection to persons accused of war crimes. This is the background in which the question of responsibility for war and displacement assumes urgency. In war and war-like conditions the categorical distinctions between groups seeking shelter, assistance, and protection vanish. In such a time it is important to examine the effectiveness of the global protection apparatus for the refugees. (1)

We evaluate the responsibility of people and groups by how they exercise their power. Sometimes we do this formally, such as in a legal judgment. The question will be, How do we relate moral responsibility and legal responsibility --not only of individuals but of empires, global powers, and other collectives? The refugee protection regime has no idea of (1) responsible agency, whereby an institution such as the state is regarded as a moral agent; (2) retrospective responsibility, by which a state is judged for its actions and is blamed or punished; or (3) responsibility as a virtue, for which a state is praised as being responsible. In the context of post-colonial experiences, we need a wider view of responsibility in order to explore connections between moral and legal responsibility, and between global and national responsibilities.

It is only from the margins that the contradictions and fault lines in the architecture of power, influence, and responsibility can be brought to light, therefore the need for a perspective "on the margins" of the protection regime is strategic. After all, there are asymmetries inherent in the fact that an overwhelming part (by some calculations, 86 per cent) of world's refugees are hosted in the Global South, (2) but an equally overwhelming part (for instance, 80 per cent) of UNHCR's funding comes from states in the Global North. …

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