There are few more challenging questions in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies than where and how we draw the line between ‘refugee’ and ‘voluntary migrant’. As the culmination of several years research by Alexander Betts, Survival Migration: Failed Governance and the Crisis of Displacement was published by Cornell University Press in 2013. Based on extensive research on the situation of Zimbabwean, Congolese and Somali refugees in six host countries in Africa, it examines national and international responses to people who flee because of serious rights deprivations but who nevertheless fall outside the common legal understanding of a ‘refugee’.
The March issue of the journal European Political Science features a book review symposium on Survival Migration, offering critical and constructive engagement with several of the book’s main themes.
Lasse Thomassen (Queen Mary University of London) sets up an introduction to the book. Alexandra Delano (The New School, New York) critically engages with the main concepts, especially ‘survival migration’, Kate Weaver (University of Texas at Austin) examines the causal claims and interest-based argument in the book, and James Milner (Carleton University) explores what we can learn from the work about international organisations and the role of UNHCR. Alexander Betts then responds to each of the other contributing authors
In opening Alexandra Delano comments that, “This book is a provocative and compelling response to the gaps in the protection of rights for millions of people that fall between the cracks of the existing legal framework of the refugee regime”. She notes that “there is an obvious and urgent need to update the definition or redraw the line of who should be entitled to asylum or temporary migration, but Betts effectively shows that the broader issue is about the protection of the human rights ‘of even those who are judged to be on the wrong side of that line’ (196–197).” Delano concludes that readers are left “with a set of original proposals to rethink the way we approach these issues conceptually and practically. It also leaves us with the challenging question of what it will take for this inadequate regime to change, or at least to ‘stretch’.”
For Catherine Weaver, Survival Migration “is a brilliant and valuable contribution to international norm and refugee literature. It should most certainly be closely studied not only by humanitarian practitioners, but by all students of international relations and global governance… the book is likely to have high impact and will spur further research on regime stretching and norm implementation”. She continues by discussing the issues of interests and power.
According to James Milner, “one of the clearest contributions of the book is its ability to articulate and explain the importance of politics in understanding the response of states to the presence of non-nationals on its territory... while we have known for some time that ‘interests matter’, this book moves us forward by considering the discretionary responses of states to individuals who do not neatly fit the traditional refugee definitions… it makes more overt and transparent the range of domestic and international factors and interests that condition state responses.”
In responding, Alexander Betts comments: “My intention in writing Survival Migration was to start a dialogue, and offer new ways of thinking, rather than to provide definitive answers. By definition, the book is ambitious in scope... In some ways, I chose to privilege comparative and analytical breadth rather than depth in the hope of stimulating debate among academics, policymakers, and practitioners, opening up new avenues for subsequent research. That makes me delighted and grateful that the three review authors have engaged so thoughtfully and intelligently with different aspects of the book.”
Read the full symposium: