In the Observer yesterday, Professor Alexander Betts wrote an opinion piece highlighting the political impact that refugee diasporas can have in their home countries. Little thought, he says, has been given to the potential political resource of refugees. In light of the refugee ‘crisis’ in Europe, he asks “Could we help those in Europe to support long-term transitions to peace and democracy back home in counties like Syria, addressing the root causes that led to them fleeing their homes in the first place?”
While diasporas are recognised for their role in sending remittances back to their home countries, their role in non-violent political opposition is less well known. However, as Betts states, how we treat these refugees in exile will determine their ability to have an impact on the politics of their countries of origin. Many diasporas require external support in order to develop a critical mass, including from third party governments.
Betts provides two examples from Africa – Zimbabwe and Rwanda – to illustrate “the potential opportunities and limitations of British foreign policy engagement with refugee diasporas.” These examples demonstrate that diasporas do have a capacity for impact, but also that the diaspora engagement policies of Western governments are “often muddled and incoherent”.
He concludes by stating that we need to see “asylum not just as a home affairs issue but one inextricably connected to foreign policy and development goals, including post-conflict reconstruction and peace-building.”
Read the article here >>
See also: Mobilising the Diaspora: How Refugees Challenge Authoritarianism (Cambridge University Press, 2016), by Alexander Betts and Will Jones.