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To conceptualise something is to construct it rather than to define or describe it. In this way, the metaphorical language used to talk about migration carries with it certain implications for the way we think about, and therefore act towards, migrants. This paper explores the conceptual and practical difficulties involved in separating out forced from unforced migrants, and considers the main categorical distinctions that have emerged over the years within the broader category of forced migrants. These distinctions, like the term ‘forced migrant’ itself, are artifacts of policy concerns, rather than of empirical observation and sociological analysis. This paper suggests that this raises problems, both for the practical relevance of research and for the dialogue between policy makers and advocates in the field of forced migration.

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Working paper


Refugee Studies Centre

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