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Refugees are Migrants: Refugee Mobility, Recognition and Rights

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - REF-MIG (Refugees are Migrants: Refugee Mobility, Recognition and Rights)

Reporting period: 2020-07-01 to 2021-12-31

The RefMig project aims to re-examine the refugee regime through the lens of mobility and migration. In order to achieve a deeper understanding of the laws, norms, institutions and practices that govern refugeehood and the migration and mobility of refugees, the project examines the division between refugees and (other) migrants in several contexts. The project’s premise, that ‘refugees are migrants’ aims to open up for scrutiny those practices that limit refugee flight and onward mobility, to examine how migration control concerns have come to permeate the refugee regime. It also questions the notion that international protection is only for refugees, and aims to understand how human rights and migration control may be reconciled.

The project has opened with two complementary strands. Through the Recognising Refugees strand, the project examines the institutional practices that seek to distinguish refugees from migrants, which ought to be subject to much greater scrutiny by those who would defend refugee privilege in a world of migration control. This strand examines the institutional practices that seek to distinguish refugees from migrants. We take a purposefully broad conception of refugee recognition, encompassing not only individual refugee status determination (RSD) but also the institutional processes that determine access to RSD (registration, admissability processes etc.), as well as prima facie and group determination. We examine the role of state institutions in this context (bureaucracies, legislatures, and the judiciary), as well as UNHCR’s mandate RSD practices, and its handovers to state authorities (a recent phenomenon in both Kenya and Turkey). The strand looks at these practices globally, as well as by developing in-depth comparative case studies in Turkey, Lebanon, Kenya and South Africa. This strand also explores empirical legal and ethical issues surrounding refugee resettlement, and the use of ‘vulnerability’ criteria and assessments in this context.

The 'Organisations of Protection' strand considers the role of non-state actors in the global refugee and migration regimes, in particular that of international and humanitarian organisations. It includes a particular spotlight on the role of IOM, but also questions the mandates, accountability and functions of IOs in the regimes. The evolution of the IOM’s mandate and activities will be scrutinised with published outputs to include an edited collection focusing on mandate and accountability reforms that are due, particularly in light of the organisation’s renewed role under the New York Declaration and The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, and its new ‘UN-related’ status.
The ‘Recognising Refugees’ strand of research in the project will be informed by comparative fieldwork in Kenya, Lebanon, South Africa, and Turkey. Our research team undertook preliminary scoping trips to Kenya and Lebanon and subsequently have carried out extended periods of fieldwork.Our approach to studying refugee recognition processes involves a multi-stakeholder perspective; and is multi-dimensional in the sense that it not only looks at RSD per se, but what informs it, how it is done, roles and views of different actors and its significance or relevance to all involved.

Dr Caroline Nalule was based in Kenya (December and May-July 2019) where she met with NGOs, both in Nairobi and Kakuma that work with refugees, Kenyan academics and a refugee law practitioner. She held extensive discussions with the Government of Kenya Refugee Affairs Secretariat, both in Nairobi and Kakuma, as well as with officers of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This research includes individual interviews, with refugees and asylum seekers, and two focus group discussions to help provide an overview of what refugees and asylum seekers think of the recognition process in Kenya, suggested improvements to the process as well as challenges they faced in integration into Kenyan society.

Dr Derya Ozkul visited Lebanon in April and July-September 2019. She conducted around 30 elite interviews with NGO workers providing legal services for refugees, the General Security, which is the responsible authority for all foreigners in the country, UNHCR RSD and resettlement officers, as well as Embassy officials who are facilitating resettlement from Lebanon. She also conducted semi-structured interviews with refugees and asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, and Sudan (the top three recognised nationalities).These interviews aimed to understand how refugees and asylum seekers navigate the bureaucracies, their experiences with the authorities, and legal and social problems in Lebanon.

The first workshop in November 2018 dealt with one of the cross-cutting themes, examining Accountability for Human Rights Violations in Migration Control: New Frontiers of Individual and Organisational Responsibility. It brought together leading legal scholars to examine accountability gaps, where those who violate human rights escape accountability. The workshop sought to foster reflection on the state of the art in international and EU law, and to consider mechanisms, legal and political, to enhance accountability for human rights violations in this context, and ensure that human rights are respected and protected in the migration context. In particular, it provided the opportunity to reflect on the growing operational role of EU agencies, IOM, and other non-state actors in this context. The workshop proceeedings will appear later in 2020 as a special issue of the German Law Journal, to be co-edited by Cathryn Costello and Professor Itamar Mann.

The second stream of research 'Organisations of Protection' particularly focusses on the International Organization for Migration (IOM). A workshop, in February 2019, ‘IOM: The ‘UN Migration Agency’?’ brought together a group of experts with established expertise and/or a demonstrated research interest in the operation and accountability of international organisations in the migration and refugee regimes, with a particular focus on the role of the IOM. Discussions on the day addressed what the main unexplored scholarly questions pertaining to IOM are; which current challenges (institutional, legal, and/or political) are facing the IOM and lastly what an ‘ideal IOM’ would do and how? Cathryn Costello and Derya Ozkul, as observers, attended sessions of the 109th IOM Council meeting in November 2018 and also met representatives from the IOM Migration Policy Research Division to discuss the RefMig project aims.
The Recognising Refugees strand will inform a dedicated issue of the Forced Migration Review (FMR) in November 2020 on ‘Recognising Refugees’. As the administrative process by which governments or UNHCR determine whether a person seeking international protection is considered a refugee, refugee status determination is a core element of the refugee regime – and the fairness, quality and efficiency of RSD procedures and decision-making obviously have significant implications for the protection and assistance of people of concern.
Signposts Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, August 2019