Forced migration in the ‘First World’: questioning the logics of a humanitarian concept
This paper uses the example of post-Olympics displacement in East London to challenge the boundaries of forced migration, and to question assumptions about where forced migration happens. The case of displacement in East London is helpful precisely because it lies on the margins of the forced migration concept. Testing forced migration at its limits allows for an interrogation of the assumptions that lie at its core. The following questions guide this exploration at the margins: How might the ideological underpinnings of the current category of forced migration exclude displacement in wealthy, developed countries from analysis? What does the exclusion of displacement in such contexts say about the nature of the forced migration category, about its implicit power relations and dynamics? How does the case of development and displacement in East London challenge the forced migration concept, and call for an evaluation of its underlying logic? Through exploring these questions, this paper puts forward two primary arguments. First, I argue that the forced migration concept is founded on an implicit humanitarian logic. Second, I argue that, if scholars are to truly consider the power implicit in locating forced migration elsewhere, it is necessary to both turn away from an apolitical humanitarian logic and to ‘invert the gaze’ by also examining displacement as it happens in the ‘West’. This paper thus serves as an initial call to critically reflect on forced migration’s underlying humanitarian logic—to consider, for instance, why displacement and dispossession are almost exclusively assumed to occur ‘elsewhere’ and the potential power implications this geography of forced migration might hold. Rather than seek definitive conclusions on causal links between development and displacement in East London, I conduct an exploratory and descriptive study that will raise questions for further research.