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  • Safe country? Says who?

    4 January 2017

    Part of a Special Issue in Honour of Professor Guy S Goodwin-Gill. In 1991, Professor Guy S Goodwin-Gill reflected on the emerging safe country of origin (SCO) practices in an editorial in the International Journal of Refugee Law, entitled ‘Safe Country? Says Who?’. This article reflects on developments regarding SCO practices since his prescient editorial, focusing on both Europe, where they originated, and Canada. The article first explores how SCO practices have developed in European law and practice since their inception, including the role of European courts in assessing their legality. This European experience is then contrasted with Canada’s short-lived experiment with its analogous Designated Country of Origin (DCO) system, which, in 2015, was deemed unconstitutional by the Federal Court of Canada.

  • Repatriation through a trust-based lens: refugee-state trust relations on the Thai-Burma border and beyond

    1 December 2014

    This paper puts forward the argument that substantive attention to the phenomenon of ‘trust’ constitutes a surprising missing chapter in contemporary repatriation policy and theory. In particular, the paper highlights the need for repatriation theorists and policy-makers to foreground trust relations between refugees and their states of origin in dominant frameworks. It argues that emphasis on these refugee-state trust relations presents a logical development, both of contemporary theory on the political content of repatriation and of due consideration of the formidable barrier to repatriation posed by refugees’ distrust of their state of origin. The paper puts forward a trust-based lens, suggesting that we recognise repatriation as, at least in part, a process of trust-building between refugee-citizens and their state of origin. This lens is then applied to the possible future repatriation of Karen refugees in the Thai-Burma border camps, drawing directly on the broad framework developed, and also on historical and cultural dimensions of trust specific to this case. The paper concludes that in this context dominant strategies currently undermine prospects for successful refugee-state trust-building, emphasising the need for fundamental political reform of the Burmese state in terms of its ethnic minority political representation if refugee-state trust is to be won.

  • Reframing displacement crises as development opportunities

    11 April 2014

    The displacement of refugees and IDPs is pre-eminently a humanitarian and a human rights challenge. But large-scale displacement crises also present significant development opportunities and challenges, in addition to the humanitarian needs and the ‘humanitarian imperative’. Using a political economy analysis the policy note demonstrates the developmental impacts of displacement, highlights evidence-based arguments in favour of developmental approaches to assisting displaced populations and their hosts, and indicates the scope these approaches offer for sustainable responses that benefits not only displaced people but also host societies. It provides a systematic analytical and methodological framework for: mitigating the negative impacts, by improving strategies to tackle the economic costs and impacts of displacement; and maximising developmental returns from displacement.

  • Beyond the 'raw' and the 'cooked': a history of fortified blended foods

    28 September 2015

    This paper offers a history of fortified blended foods, a humanitarian product that first emerged in the middle of the twentieth century. Tracing its emergence and development, the paper argues that this food was the product of four key historical trends: (i) the search for a compact and efficient diet in the wake of the Second World War; (ii) the high modernist movement that saw science and technology as a way to improve on traditional foods; (iii) the state-led industrialisation of the development decades oriented around the notion of a worldwide 'protein gap'; and (iv) the legacy of 'productivist' agriculture in the United States, generating massive surpluses in certain crops that had to be adapted creatively for a multitude of uses. The paper positions fortified blended foods in these broader historical processes, and asserts that humanitarian techniques are very much rooted in cultural, political, and social conditions.

  • Control and biopower in contemporary humanitarian aid: the case of supplementary feeding

    28 September 2015

    The concept of biopower is often used in the analysis of contemporary aid. Referring to a power that is exercised over life and that operates through self-government, it seems very appropriate for the operations of humanitarian agencies, particularly in refugee contexts. This article critiques the application of biopower in studies of humanitarianism, arguing that many aid operations are based on top-down control, rather than self-government and the internalization of norms. As an illustration, I examine a supplementary feeding programme in South Sudan, looking at how food was provided, how hunger was measured, and pointing out the hierarchical and paternalistic control involved. As well as suggesting that biopower often lacks relevance in refugee contexts, I also argue it has been applied too broadly. By being associated with a vast array of humanitarian practices, it risks losing any analytical utility, becoming a substitute for detailed descriptions of power. This article seeks to return to that detail, describing a humanitarian programme and pointing out some discrepancies with the ever-popular notion of biopower, which, I argue, has a tendency to be applied without an adequate definition.

  • How projects rise and fall: the lifecycle of a dietary modernisation scheme

    28 September 2015

    How do projects grow? How do they fail? What accounts for their changing fortunes? This paper uses the archives of a 1970s modernisation scheme to explore the life cycle of a long-running project, concerning the production of leaf protein in Nigeria. It argues that archives can be very useful for understanding success and failure, and encourages practitioners to take an interest in the story of past projects, even those that failed. Drawing on Actor-Network Theory, it argues that alliances are key to understanding project lifecycles, suggesting that practitioners focus on strengthening local relationships, rather than seeking answers in universal management templates.

  • Book Review: Life in Crisis: The ethical journey of Doctors Without Borders

    28 September 2015

    Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, remains the gold standard of medical relief. Fiercely independent, highly self-critical, resolutely professional, and able to mobilize at a moment’s notice, for many people it represents the best of the humanitarian ideal. The organization is surrounded by a number of myths and stereotypes: the oppositional spirit of ‘medical hippies’, the rebellion against the Red Cross, the heroic doctors in Biafra, the ‘unshaven, cigarette-smoking Frenchmen’ moving from crisis to crisis surrounded by fag ash and disruption. But despite a smattering of academic articles and a number of edited collections from MSF’s own think-tank, the story of MSF has not been examined in a lengthy scholarly study, at least not in the English language. With the publication of Peter Redfield’s book, which has been over ten years in the making, our knowledge of this influential organization and the literature on humanitarian aid has been significantly enhanced. A glance at the book’s subtitle would seem to suggest a work of moral philosophy or intellectual history, but this text is embedded in anthropology. Drawing on interviews, participant observation, and documentary analysis, it contains ethnographic sketches that cover key themes in MSF’s history. Chapter Three, for example, studies MSF’s famed logistical capacity, examining how it maintains global reach through …

  • Questioning the value of ‘refugee’ status and its primary vanguard: the case of Eritreans in Uganda

    31 May 2018

    This paper asks what, for refugees and displaced communities, is the perceived ‘value’ of refugee status in assisting them to access protection and any longer term solutions? Through empirical research with Eritreans in Kampala and Asmara, it explores the taken-for-granted portrayal of refugee status as a necessary – or the best suited – gatekeeper to protection and enduring solutions. In doing so it reframes a frequent anxiety in forced migration studies, which centres on the question of whether there is something unique about refugees beyond their legal status which makes them a clear object of study? This research somewhat flips that question, instead asking in what ways displaced individuals perceive that being assigned refugee status would make them different, and what do they understand would follow from this in terms of securities and solutions? The amended focus allows us to explore the role and value of refugee status not through its intended functions but via a grounded, granular analysis of people’s attitudes and responses to it. Throughout these discussions, what ‘value’ might mean was intentionally kept open, to ensure that people’s subjective attribution of qualities to this status could find full expression.

  • Faith and responses to displacement

    10 December 2014

    The role of faith in the humanitarian sector is not easy to measure. Faiths generally advocate welcoming the stranger and there are many organisations and individuals inspired by their faith or religion to provide protection and assistance. Yet it is easier to measure the activities inspired by faith than to measure the difference that having that faith makes, and secularly inspired standards for such activities can appear to be in tension with the faith inspiration. FMR 48 includes 36 articles on ‘Faith’ plus seven ‘general’ articles.