C – Mobilities, migrations, and transnational actors

Will the real refugee please stand up? Refugees in international political discourse since 1945

Event Details

  • Date

    Saturday, 27 June - 14:00 – 16:00

  • Venue
    tba
  • Theme
    C – Mobilities, migrations, and transnational actors
Convenor
  • Sara Cosemans (Catholic University of Leuven)
Chair
  • Sara Cosemans (Catholic University of Leuven)
Commentator
  • Anne Irfan (University of Oxford)
Panelists
  • Sara Cosemans (Catholic University of Leuven)
  • Frank Bösch (University of Potsdam)
  • Christian Wevelsiep (University of Flensburg)

Papers

  • Sara Cosemans
    The internationalization of the Refugee Effort: Dispersal and the Limits of Refugee Resettlement in the 1970s

    The internationalization of the Refugee Effort: Dispersal and the Limits of Refugee Resettlement in the 1970s

    The 1970s saw a resurgence of refugee resettlement as a preferred strategy to deal with urgent and highly politicized refugee crises, such as the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians, the exile of Chilean political detainees, and the exodus of Vietnamese ‘boat people’. The resettlement effort, however, differed considerably from practices observed after the World Wars. The humanitarian focus superseded the economic incentive for resettlement (in discourse, however, rather than in practice). Furthermore, already early in the decade, the idea arose that the real solution for refugee problems existed in dispersal. The ‘burden’ was thus placed on an increasing number of states in an active effort to internationalize the responsibility for refugees from the so-called ‘Third World’. In this paper, I investigate how dispersal and ‘the internationalization of the refugee effort’ was conceptualized by and in several international refugees organizations, more particularly the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) in the 1970s. The paper aims to enhance our understanding of legal framework and the technologies that enabled, shaped, and defined not only dispersal but the concept ‘refugee’ between 1972 and 1979.
  • Frank Bösch
    Accepted due to inter/national pressure: The West German Reception of Vietnamese Boat People in the1970/80s

    Accepted due to inter/national pressure: The West German Reception of Vietnamese Boat People in the1970/80s

    The so called “Boat People” from South East Asia were the first major group of non-European refugees which was accepted in West Germany and many other countries. My paper will analyse the decisions and practices which enabled the acceptance, transfer and support of these refugees in the late 1970s. I argue on the basis of internal and public sources that the West German government tried hard to prevent the acceptance of these refugees for many years, but was pushed successfully by international organisations (like UNHCR) and public pressure (media, intellectuals, NGOs), which was also based on international connections. My paper will contrast the new legal innovations which were brought up in these years with the highly random selection of those refugees in practice. In comparison to other states which also developed quotas for “Boat People”, this paper will discuss the peculiarities of the German debate like the experience of the German expellees past 1945 and the role of the Holocaust. It will also show how international cooperation failed – like a European boat for the rescue of refugees in the South Chinese Sea. Finally, it will compare the inclusion of the Boat People in Germany, which went hand in hand with the exclusion of refugees from Islamic countries in these years.
  • Christian Wevelsiep
    "A new species of humans." On the topicality of an essay by Hannah Arendt

    "A new species of humans." On the topicality of an essay by Hannah Arendt

    Stories about flight and expulsion, about successful and failing integration are currently virulent. They stand in a tradition in which a particular difficulty becomes clear. How do you approach groups of people who are located in certain intermediate spaces, who remain excluded and never reach a safe location? What name could be given to those who remain nameless, insecure and exposed? Hannah Arendt knew to combine her lived experience as a refugee with her political reflections. The tone that accompanies her in her attempt to give a name to that group of people who had been abandoned and remained stateless is understandable. Contemporary history has created "a new genus of people". They were people who were sent to concentration camps and by others to internment camps. It was the nation-state order of Europe that her criticism aimed at. A critique that was justified from two sides: from the general side of the philosophical justification of politics and from the subjective side of the excluded and stateless. The nation-state of the 20th century was fixated on fixed borders; it referred above all to the distinction between members and non-affiliates. It is this criticism that has lost none of its topicality - and yet we can emphasize another aspect. It is the connection between the experience of being excluded and the language in which this experience becomes explicit. Hannah Arendt's language contains memorable motifs. Her essay is accusing, an expression of a personal and collective experience of regret. Arendt spoke of a new genus of people: Non-members, excluded, outsiders. The names are complex. Arendt sought a plea for recognition of an "avant-garde of peoples" whose interests must be taken into account. On the one hand, it is the idea of the public and active representation of existential interests that can be translated into a political language. On the other hand, it shows the power of language, which establishes the connection between personal experience and a political existence.

Abstract

The emergence of the refugee as a legal category is intrinsically linked with the history of international organizations of the twentieth century. Dividing mobile populations in groups deserving of protection and other ‘migrants’ inevitably drew borders between them, however blurry and debated. Legal innovations did not prevent that the control of these boundaries often escaped the international organizations responsible for refugees. Meanwhile, throughout the twentieth century, technologies were developed by and in international organizations to govern refugees, including some while excluding other. This panel raises the following questions: What is the role of international organizations in defining ‘refugeehood’? Which mechanisms, technologies, and theories contribute to in-/exclusion of people in the refugee category on national and international levels? What does it mean to be a refugee, or to be denied that status, based on international legal instruments? As historians’ interest in refugee history increases, this panel brings together researchers engaged with the history of in- and exclusion that accompanies the emergence and growth of the refugee regime. Two of the three papers are strongly empirical, drawing from primary source material that sheds new light on the architecture of the international refugee regime and the connections between various actors involved in it – both actors acting from a ‘majority’ or powerful position, as those excluded from power and rights. The third paper is more theoretical, but equally occupies itself with devices of in- and exclusion, contemplating on Hannah Arendt’s philosophical and political conceptualization of the refugee as a ‘non-member’.