On June 5 and 6, a workshop funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) was convened to reimagine refugee protection.
The workshop, “Alternative Solutions to Refugee Protection,” was organized by Jennifer Hyndman, director of the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University, a professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies and a staff member, and York PhD candidate Johanna Reynolds. Innovative thinkers from across the globe were invited to present creative approaches, local and regional practices, and interventions at scales finer and greater than the nation-state, which currently frames “solutions” in the international refugee regime. Speakers came from Singapore, India, South Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. The group included human rights defenders, postcolonial thinkers, representatives from civil society organizations and scholars who find the current UN Global Compact consultations too state-focused.
“We have many parts of the world represented and many different ways into unsettling the salient discourse of refugee protection,” says Hyndman. “From concrete strategies that work to create safe space for people on the move to research that shows how de facto protection in cities is possible without de jure permanent status; from government approaches that provide protection without the UN or international legal conventions to informal humanitarianism and civil society efforts to create protection; from critiques of the status quo that promote self-reliance (and containment) through a neo-liberal development regime to new paradigms that challenge us to think beyond the narrow definition of refugee and examine human rights for migrants writ large.”
One of the outcomes of the workshop is the “Humane Mobility: A manifesto for change,” a document that urges the global community to engage beyond the Global Compact. The manifesto’s opening paragraph states: “A deep reimagining of migration is urgently needed. We are profoundly concerned about responses to human mobility, including the Global Compact on Refugees and the artificial separation from wider migration issues. It emerges from exclusionary drafting and decision-making processes that ignore the lived realities of the people and spaces most affected by displacement. It privileges state sovereignty over human beings. It reinforces unequal power relations and waters down existing commitments to human rights and dignity.”
To view “Humane Mobility: A manifesto for change” and to endorse the recommendations made in document, visit humanemobility.net.
The document was drafted by Ottawa University Professor Christina Clark-Kazak with input from other workshop participants. It has been translated from English into Swahili, Arabic, Dari, Pashtu, Sgaw, Spanish, Portuguese and French, and has already been endorsed by academics and leaders in the field. The manifesto marked its official launch on July 25 at the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) Conference in Greece.
More people are displaced now than any time since the Second World War. The UN’s refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), provides material humanitarian assistance and basic protection against forced return where possible. UNHCR’s three “durable solutions” currently fail to deliver much protection for refugees. Voluntary repatriation is at a 30-year low, local integration into a nearby host country is not an option with 90 per cent of refugees living in global south and Middle Eastern regions, and refugee resettlement to countries like Canada is modest, affecting about one per cent of refugees worldwide. In 2016, the UN released the New York Declaration and a commitment to the Global Compacts on which all UN member countries were unanimous in agreeing that change is needed. Refugee protection needs are largely unmet and are unfairly shouldered by poorer countries in the global south and Middle East. While this process has not yet concluded, its focus is on states, more than people, who are forced to move.
The workshop was sponsored by the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation; the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies; the Centre for Refugee Studies; the Department of Social Science; and the Sociology Research Committee. It also received support from the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (CARFMS) and from Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees.