Refugees in International Relations

By Alexander Betts; Gil Loescher | Go to book overview

1
Refugees in International Relations

Alexander Betts and Gil Loescher

Refugees are people who cross international borders in order to flee human rights abuses and conflict. Refugees are prima facie evidence of human rights violations and vulnerability. People who are persecuted and deprived of their homes and communities and means of livelihood are frequently forced to flee across the borders of their home countries and seek safety abroad. Historically, wherever states have persecuted their own populations or there have been wars, people have left their country of origin. From the Holocaust to the proxy conflicts of the Cold War, to the internal conflicts in the aftermath of the Cold War, to the occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq in the context of the ‘War on Terror’, refugees have emerged from just about every significant historical conflict or despotic regime. Because refugees find themselves in a situation in which their own government is unable or unwilling to ensure their physical safety and most fundamental human rights, they are forced to seek protection from the international community. Ensuring that refugees receive safety and access to their rights, livelihoods, and the possibility to be reintegrated into their country of origin or another state is therefore an important human rights issue.

However, refugees are more than simply a human rights issue. Refugee movements are also an inherent part of international politics. The ‘figure of the refugee’ is an integral part of the international system, symbolizing the failure of the state-citizen-territory relationship assumed by the state system to seamlessly ensure international order and justice (Haddad 2008). The causes, consequences, and responses to refugees are all closely intertwined with world politics. The causes of refugee movements are underpinned by conflict, state failure, and the inequalities of international political economy. The consequences of movements have been associated with security, the spread of conflict, terrorism, and transnationalism. Therefore, responding to refugees represents a challenge to world order and justice and to the facilitation of international cooperation.

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