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11 - Refugees

from Part II - Issue Areas

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2016

Alexander Betts
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
Amitav Acharya
Affiliation:
American University, Washington DC
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Summary

Introduction

Refugee movements have become one of the defining issues of the twenty-first century. In 2015, there were more refugees and internally displaced persons than at any time since World War II. The Syria crisis led to the largest refugee movements in a generation, and over one million asylum seekers traveled to Europe by boat. Meanwhile, new drivers of displacement are creating vulnerable migrants who fall outside the scope of the refugee regime. Amid these challenges, a growing demand for reform to refugee and migration governance has begun to emerge. States and a range of transnational actors have begun to question the adequacy of existing institutions. Yet this in turn poses the question of what determines the direction of change. Where does the demand for refugee governance come from? Is a change in the nature and scale of the problem sufficient to trigger durable, sustained governance reform?

In order to explore these questions, this chapter takes a broader historical perspective on the sources of demand for refugee governance. The core elements of the refugee regime are unchanged since its inception in the 1950s: the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, which defines who is a refugee and the rights to which such people are entitled, and an international organization, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has primary responsibility for supervising states’ compliance with the convention. Yet, in practice, the regime has been characterized by a process of dynamic evolution. Rather than emerging fully developed, refugee governance has evolved gradually, over time and through a series of transformative phases.

The UNHCR has gone from being a small secretariat offering legal advice on the application of the Convention to states in Europe to being a sizable humanitarian organization providing assistance to a range of populations and operating around the world. Its mandate has broadened both i) “who it protects” – the scope of its so-called population of concern, and ii) “how it protects” – the scope of its activities. As politicians and policy makers contemplate the next possible stages of this evolution, historical reflection may enable us to understand both where the demand for refugee governance reform generally comes from, and the conditions under which it leads to durable and effective governance.

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Why Govern?
Rethinking Demand and Progress in Global Governance
, pp. 211 - 229
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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  • Refugees
  • Edited by Amitav Acharya, American University, Washington DC
  • Book: Why Govern?
  • Online publication: 05 September 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316756829.011
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  • Refugees
  • Edited by Amitav Acharya, American University, Washington DC
  • Book: Why Govern?
  • Online publication: 05 September 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316756829.011
Available formats
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To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Refugees
  • Edited by Amitav Acharya, American University, Washington DC
  • Book: Why Govern?
  • Online publication: 05 September 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316756829.011
Available formats
×