Workshop Highlights Agency in South-South Refugee Flows

Workshop ‘Searching for Solutions: Lessons and Warnings from Refugee Situations’

On the 13th and 14th of August 2022 the Centre gathered several scholars to discuss durable solutions for refugee situations in a workshop focusing mainly on South-South refugee flows. With a variety of presentations on papers that apply cross-regional examinations, the workshop intended to remedy literature gaps created by the biased focus on on States in Europe and North America as refugee-hosting nations.

Prof. Dr Bidisha Biswas, Professor in Political Science at Western Washington University and an Associate Senior Fellow of the Centre, identified the need to address such literature gaps, as the countries in the Global South and in East Asia are often not seen as countries with a strong independent agency to both shape the refugee policies of their own countries and have a say in what happens in the international refugee regime per se. The diversity of academic voices was also a point of concern. For this reason, Professor Biswas proactively sought out scholars who are from the Global South to join the discussion.

The organizers have succeeded in that regard and gathered a diverse group of scholars who were mostly female and from countries in the Global South to present their papers that focused on various regions and explored durable solutions in a number of  host countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Lebanon and Peru. Whilst exploring possible solutions, the papers aimed to elaborate the position of South Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American countries as host nations. Encouraging a diversity of approaches and theoretical frameworks, the workshop’s aim was to facilitate cooperation leading to contributions which can be published can be published in an edited volume or a special issue of a journal. Although the focus was on the Global South, the event also included a presentation on the decision-making processes of the Japanese and Korean state and their refugee policies by Prof. Dr. Naoko Hashimoto, an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Social Sciences, Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. Professor Biswas explains that

Korea and Japan were not part of the initial idea. But nonetheless, they are industrialized countries whose perspectives on refugee situations are often not seen and that [including them in the workshop] pushes against the Western hemisphere prism by which we conceive refugee issues.

The discussions showed that adjusting to a perspective from the South and moving away from this Western hemisphere prism resulted in a significant change in the dialogue on refugeehood and solutions to refugee situations. During the two days there was a crucial shift in the discussion from durability, which was a term used in the beginning, to temporality, which played an important role in the argumentations towards the end. As Prof. Dr. Biswas explains:

Durability and temporality go hand in hand. Sometimes they are in tension, sometimes they are intersecting. A durable solution is fundamentally tied to how we understand time and how that time affects the whole society as well as the refugee populations themselves.

Other participants saw the aspect of temporality as a valuable insight during the workshop, as Dr Samata Biswas from Sanskrit College University in Kolkata mentioned. Prof. Dr. Ramya Vijaya, a Professor of Economics and Global Studies at Stockton University (USA), was also interested in temporality and

the idea of looking at it from the refugee´s perspectives themselves and their life in waiting.

Throughout the discussions the perpetual waiting in the status of being a refugee and the meaning of such waiting was often addressed. Professor Vijaya is an economist and highlights the roles of refugees as economic agents, as they also are consumers while waiting and are active within their camps, for example. While their economic role is often seen as the one of merely providing labour, she points out that this waiting is not passive and that

the waiting itself is an economic role.

This economic role led discussants to consider another aspect of refugeehood, that of informality. Dr Rose Jaji, who is a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Zimbabwe and currently senior researcher at the German Institute for Development and Sustainability (IDOS), explores African cases of refugeehood and informality. Her research suggests that non-integration refugee policies in African contexts

have not necessarily led to lack of integration but to refugees finding solutions through informal structures in the regions that host them.

Informality in practices or a host country's adherence to rules were extensively discussed in comparison to western countries where there is a more formal process for refugees.

Further dimensions of refugee studies have also been explored during the workshop regarding the nomenclature, not only of the categorization of refugees, but also the terminology used to describe the countries and regions in question. Terminologies such as Global South and Global North, or margins and centre, were challenged, as grouping such diverse countries in that manner could be problematic and perhaps outdated. After such enriching as well as refreshing conversations and insights, we remain curious and enthusiastic about the next steps of this collaboration. As Dr Samata Biswas remarked:

This is a group of scholars I did not engage with earlier, and I think some exciting publications will come of it.


Bianca Sola Claudio