Inaugural conference tackles issues of forced migration

York’s Centre for Refugee Studies is hosting the inaugural conference of the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (CARFMS), from June 15 to 18, which will bring together over 120 researchers, academics, graduate students, NGOs and government representatives from across Canada and beyond to discuss issues regarding the forced migration of refugees.

Titled "Refugees and the Insecure Nation: Managing Forced Migration in Canada 2008", the conference comes at a time when Bill C-50, which deals, among other things, with amendments to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, is on the House of Commons’ agenda for a third reading. Those amendments would give the minister of immigration arbitrary powers to decide who can or can’t enter the country. Conference organizer and associate director of York’s Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS) Wenona Giles says, "Bill C-50 introduces drastic, negative legislative changes to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. These amendments, if adopted, will greatly narrow processing of immigration applications."

To register for the conference, which takes place in Rooms 106, 206, 006, Accolade West Building, Keele campus, click here.

Left: Rwandan refugee camp

According to CARFMS, one of the ironies of contemporary regimes of migration control is that programs developed to promote national and international security have produced negative impacts on the security of migrants themselves. Conference speakers will examine the measures taken in the name of national security and what the negative consequences have been for refugees.

These consequences will be discussed along three themes over the four days of the conference. They include refugees and rights in Canada; Canadian settlement and integration: experiences and policy-making; and the international impact of Canadian refugee policy. CARFMS was launched last year as an independent community of scholars dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of Canadian refugee and forced migration research.

Following the first-day welcome by David Dewitt, York associate vice-president research, social sciences & humanities, along with Giles and CRS director Susan McGrath, Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, will give the opening plenary on refugee rights in Canada.

The various panels will then discuss everything from the dynamics involved in forced migration, the mental health of refugees, safe third-country agreement and security certificates to issues related to gender in forced migration and the experiences of refugee children and youth as well as access to labour and work.

One of the talks involving refugee rights – "Detention and deportation of refugee ‘terrorists’: A comparative analysis between Canada, the UK and New Zealand" – will be presented by Sasha Baglay, an adjunct professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. "This presentation examines the procedures and their application to a number of suspects in Canada, the UK and New Zealand," says Baglay. "It is particularly focused on prolonged detention and a possibility of release of suspected terrorists."

It will also look at the judicial interpretation of the factors warranting continued detention or release and the change in judicial approach to these factors over time. In a broader context, the presentation examines different types of discourses on issues of security and fundamental rights. It is an issue that has particular relevance in today’s world.

University of Toronto law Professor Audrey Macklin will discuss "Forcing Managed Migration in Canada" with a look at the importance of policing the Canadian border. "To the extent that policing the border signifies the last vestige and most potent symbol of sovereignty in popular consciousness, choosing who will enter becomes a hyper-visible manifestation of that sovereignty," says Macklin. "The international refugee regime is a constant irritant, precisely because the state has ex ante relenquished its unconstrained authority to choose who may enter, who may be excluded, and who may be deported."

Macklin asks, "What happens when the refugee regime confronts the smuggling/trafficking regime?" She will explore that question through two Canadian case studies, while Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, will give the opening plenary speech on day two of the conference, titled "Canadian Settlement and Integration: Experiences and Policy-Making".

Right: Refugee camp in Guinea

James Simeon, a faculty member in York’s School of Public Policy & Administration and a former Immigration & Refugee Board of Canada judge, will examine the impact on refugee applicants of Article 1F(a) of the 1951 of the 1951 Convention in Canada, which allows applicants to be excluded from protection for various reasons, and whether its interpretation has changed since the events of 9/11.

Managing forced migration internationally through housing and property restitution, resettelment of refugees in Canada and the issues of government policy as well as the problems arising from internally displaced people who have no where to go, will be discussed during the course of the conference.

One of the final panels of the conference will address the issue of healing and resilience, including a look at the mental health effect of living in limbo and the difficult process of settlement for refugees along with the use of art for healing. As one of the panelists, Ezat Mossallanejad of the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture will discuss the impact on victims of impunity – in this case when perpetrators of massive, horrific crimes go unpunished. Mossallanejad will argue that it is difficult for victims of massive international crimes to cope with their horrible, past traumas and build a new life, while the perpetrators walk free.

"Post-war reconstruction and reconciliation seem impossible without introduction of some kind of justice for victims," says Mossallanejad. "The psychological impacts of impunity are everlasting and can be passed on through generations. In my opinion, an apology is needed as a means to reach some type of healing; in addition, memorials, reparations and compensations – whether financial or others – should be offered to the victims."

For a complete listing of speakers, along with the issues they’ll be discussing, visit the CARFMS conference Web site.

The conference is funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada and York University.