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Beyond Charity: International Cooperation and the Global Refugee Crisis.

Beyond Charity contains all the qualities we have come to expect in a book on refugees by Gil Loescher: thorough research, mastery of a broad range of facts covering many nations and continents, an interpretation of the data centering on political causation and bold policy recommendations to change current law and practice. As a history and analysis of international post-first World War refugee policy, it is unsurpassed. As a guide to future policy it is challenging and controversial. In all, it is one of the most important books ever to appear on the issue of the global refugee problem and responses to it.

Beyond Charity is made up of three distinctive parts. The first is a carefully traced history of the rise of international refugee institutions, centering on the evolution of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the inherent constraints of that office. The second is a conceptual framework which interprets international refugee policy as a reflection of the foreign policy of nation-states. Third, Loescher advocates changes in refugee structures, policies and relationships with agencies in other fields that he hopes will transcend current national interest-based refugee actions and provide real solutions resting on international cooperation. There is, however, some tension between Loescher's analysis and his recommendations with which careful readers will have to grapple.

In Beyond Charity, Loescher resurrects the main argument of his previous book on U.S. refugee policy, Calculated Kindness (written with John Scanlon), and extends it to the world scene. In the earlier work, Loescher argued forcefully that U.S. refugee policy was nothing but the reflection of its foreign policy and as such, resulted in treatment of refugees that was uneven at best and frequently inhumane. Now, Loescher argues that all nations use refugee policy to advance their national interests, not to save victims of political struggles. This manipulation of an ostensibly humanitarian system lies at the root of the severe limitations on providing both short-term and permanent solutions to refugee crises. Thus, to understand the present international refugee regime, we need to go "beyond charity," beyond seeing refugee policy that is simply a vehicle for providing humanitarian relief. We must instead recognize its fundamentally political nature.

Loescher traces the political roots of refugee policy to the formation of the current international refugee regime in the mid-twentieth century. The first efforts to deal with refugees arose after the First World War and were limited by the unwillingness of states to incur any legal, financial or moral obligation toward stateless persons. This distancing of nations from responsibility for refugees reached an ugly climax when two international conferences failed to open any doors to Jews who sought to escape from Germany in the 1930s.

After the Second World War, however, nations could not ignore the massive displacements of refugees in Europe. Stateless and internally displaced people threatened the stability of countries that were responding to their own needs and interests. In 1943, the Allied powers set up the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA), which focused on returning displaced people in Europe to their native countries. Many, however, resisted repatriation to the Soviet Union and a significant number of those who did wound up in Stalin's labor camps. A major dispute broke out; the United States wanted to end forced repatriation, which the Soviet Union insisted on maintaining as the primary solution to the refugee crisis. The United States ultimately killed UNRRA, and refugee policy became deeply embroiled in Cold War politics.

In place of UNRRA, the United States and its allies formed the International Refugee Organization (IRO). IRO changed the emphasis of refugee Policy from repatriation to resettlement abroad. Moreover, it served an increasing number of new refugees escaping the oppression of the Soviet Union and its allies. Thus, refugee policy assumed its ambivalent character: It saved many individuals who were indeed subject to repression in communist dictatorships, but it also served the geopolitical interests of the United States and its allies in their struggle with the communist world.

The United States became somewhat disillusioned with the U.N. system in the 1950s and with the expensive obligations it incurred through the repatriation work of the IRO. Therefore, when IRO's mandate expired, the United States organized a rather weak replacement, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR was given only a temporary mandate to resolve the remaining refugee problems in Europe. Nations took care not to obligate themselves to the new agency either financially or legally. The United States set up its own operations to attract escapees from Europe.

Inevitably, UNHCR became enmeshed in Cold War struggles. The United Nations Convention on Refugees defined a refugee as a person with a "well-founded fear of persecution" on the basis of "race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." Western nations designed this narrow definition for maximum propaganda value in criticizing the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe -- the source of most refugees -- as being oppressive. The definition was not as applicable to mass movements in developing countries caused by civil strife and internal warfare, and created lasting confusion about the obligation of the international community towards forced migrations in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

In addition to the propaganda value of its definition of refugees, UNHCR proved valuable to the West as an agency able to handle refugee flows out of Eastern Europe for resettlement in the West. This function first became evident in the Hungarian refugee crisis of 1956. Once the Western powers understood that UNHCR could serve their political interests, its future was secure.

Loescher perceives three main problems with the development of UNHCR since the early Cold War days. First, since its mandate was developed to address the problems of Europe after the Second World War, its relationship with the developing world has always been somewhat murky. Because it has been the most readily available international agency in dealing with forced migrations, it has been called upon to mount major relief efforts in Africa, Latin America and Asia. But population flows in these regions are more likely caused by internal unrest or civil wars than to be the result of individual persecution as envisaged in the U.N. definition. As a result, UNHCR has tended to provide only emergency relief in these areas, foregoing its role of providing legal protection or seeking permanent solutions to the plight of the millions it feeds and houses.

Second, in mounting massive relief operations, UNHCR is increasingly at the mercy of its donors and host governments. The agency can only carry out huge maintenance programs if it receives funding from large, mostly Western, states and Japan. It can only operate on the soil of countries to which refugees flow if host governments give it permission to be there. Thus, UNHCR is in no position to challenge, the policies of its funders and hosts even if those policies create refugee flows or fail to respond adequately to them. To meet its huge financial and relief responsibility, UNHCR increasingly is compelled to remain silent about such policies. Its relief function has overwhelmed its protection responsibilities.

Third, for these reasons, UNHCR has been powerless to reverse or even affect the trend of nations all over the world to adopt extremely restrictive refugee and asylum policies. From U.S. policy on Haitian boat people to European barriers erected against Balkan, third world and other asylum-seekers, the trend throughout the developed world is to shut out people desperately searching for freedom and protection. There is now a worldwide tendency to change asylum and immigration laws in a restrictive direction.

In the face of these severe problems, what does Loescher propose? His recommendations move in three directions, all based on the assumption that the refugee problem is fundamentally a political rather than a humanitarian challenge.

First, Loescher calls on the United States and Europe to adopt more humane and less ideological asylum and refugee policies. He notes, for example, that over 90 percent of the refugees admitted to the United States are still from former or current Communist countries, despite the end of the Cold War. United States' policy, in Loescher's view, should be more open toward refugees from Latin America and Africa, where the bulk of today's refugee suffering is concentrated. Loescher also calls on the United States and Europe to reverse the trend toward restrictive refugee policies. True to his theme, he does not make these recommendations on humanitarian grounds alone, though such changes would in fact relieve much suffering. Rather, Loescher argues that if Western nations do not become more sensitive to forced migrations in the developing world, these problems will explode in internal conflagrations or massive and uncontrollable exoduses that will eventually harm developed nations. Self-interest, he argues, demands a more sensitive response.

Second, Loescher calls for a recognition that the scope and mandate of UNHCR are too narrow to meet the needs of existing refugees. It is not enough simply to maintain millions of people in camps with no prospect of permanent solutions to their plight. Instead, they need either to be integrated in areas where they currently reside, or, if the regime allows and their safety is guaranteed, repatriated to their home countries. In either case, serious development programs for both the refugees and the resident populations must accompany these resolutions of refugee status. In this way, refugee policy will become part of a development strategy, requiring far greater cooperation between agencies specializing in each of the two areas.

Loescher's most controversial recommendations call for a new international regime to intervene for humanitarian reasons in cases where states seriously oppress their populations. This policy would require recognition of the principle that "sovereignty does not mean that a state can behave in any way it wants toward its own citizens without consequence," and that "certain actions and policies -- especially those that result in mass expulsions and refugee movements -- are increasingly regarded as threats to others, particularly by their neighbors." Loescher believes that the international community should mobilize through the United Nations to respond vigorously to internal oppression. In most cases, this intervention would involve diplomatic initiatives or, if they are needed, economic sanctions. To carry out this responsibility in extreme cases, however, the "Secretary-General needs to have at hand a permanent standby military capacity, to prevent the escalation of conflicts, to enforce ceasefires among warring parties and to undertake humanitarian interventions to feed and protect civil war victims." Loescher believes that an international political regime, including the use of force in some instances, is necessary to respond to the politically generated of refugees.

Yet, following the logic of Loescher's argument one can also reach the opposite conclusion. If, as Loescher claims, all international instruments of refugee policy, including UNHCR, have been used for political purposes by powerful nations, what is to stop his newly enhanced -- and armed -- U.N. humanitarian force from being diverted by member states to their own geopolitical ends? Loescher's new military capacity could end up being yet another tool of the strong nations that drive U.N. policy, rather than an independent force to serve humanitarian ends. Moreover, if we believe the historical argument that Loescher skillfully presents, we would expect exactly such co-optation.

The controversial nature of Loescher's recommendations, however, ought not detract from an appreciation of his achievement. He has laid out more cogently than any other scholar in the field both the evolution of current refugee instruments and their structural weaknesses. The strong nature of his recommendations is a reflection of the desperate plight of refugees around the world and the inadequacy of responses to their needs. Anyone disagreeing with Loescher's policy conclusions should be challenged to propose an alternative strategy for dealing with the massive tragedy he describes so well.
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Author:Rubin, Gary
Publication:Journal of International Affairs
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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