Refugee Resettlement: Power, Politics, and Humanitarian Governance.
In the first decades after the Second World War, refugee policy meant resettlement and foreign aid. Since the 1980s, resettlement took a back seat to repatriation and asylum as dominant themes within refugee policy discourse. And now, it seems that it is back.
Since 2015, when the global refugee crisis commanded a greater share of international news, expanding resettlement has been seen as an important part of the solution. The Global Compact on Refugees, affirmed in December 2018 by the un General Assembly, identified expanded access to third-country solutions as a key objective of international cooperation.
For this reason, Refugee Resettlement: Power, Politics, and Humanitarian Governance is timely. Few volumes have studied refugee resettlement within an international comparative framework. This alone makes the book worthwhile: to obtain a perspective on third-country solutions with a wider set of cases and longer time horizon than other books on resettlement in the United States, Canada, and Australia--the three primary destinations for resettled refugees.
The volume's organizing concept is "humanitarian governance," the ways in which refugee resettlement involves both care for the vulnerable and control over their lives. In the introductory chapter, the editors describe how this concept directs the analysis of the chapters that follow, as they consider the ways in which power operates in resettlement. Resettlement works in a multi-level system in which international organizations, national governments, and other agencies all shape the journeys and opportunities of refugees moving through resettlement.
The subsequent chapters trace the ways in which resettlement has operated as a form of humanitarian governance at the international and regional levels, at the national level, and in particular cases. A chapter by van Selm considers the rise of "strategic use of resettlement," and those by Sandvik and Jubilut and Zumar examine the evolution of resettlement within Africa (as a source of refugees) and South America (as a destination), respectively. The latter two chapters are distinctive for their novelty, by revealing how resettlement has featured within the refugee policies of states and institutions that are often peripheral to a policy conversation typically focused on a few countries in the Global North.
The following section turns to several of these states for national-level analysis: the United States, Canada, Australia, and Norway. The first of these chapters focuses on "the conflicting values embedded in U.S. refugee policy"--that is, humanitarianism and promoting employment as a means to settlement. It is not self-evident that these values are necessarily at odds, when employment is strongly associated with successful integration. Darrow calls for "a new identity of refugee service based on rights," but surely the right to work would be among those given high priority for refugees.
Garnier's chapter on Canada is also focused on refugee access to the labour market, and the role played by "humanitarian constituencies" (pro-refugee groups). She argues that these groups have lobbied to change regulations to allow for the selection of more vulnerable refugees, in spite of a law that technically allows selection to take into account a refugee's ability to become economically established in Canada. Other groups also play a key role facilitating refugees' access to the labour market, but most of their successes are with highly educated refugees. Unfortunately, Gamier does not make the observation that a logical consequence of selecting more vulnerable, less educated refugees for resettlement will likely make labour market access more challenging for this population. These are genuine dilemmas within refugee resettlement that deserve thoughtful analysis. The following chapter on Australia engages more directly with these issues, and Losoncz argues that the poor labour market outcomes for refugees are often due to labour market discrimination. Rekleve and Jumbert's chapter takes a different direction, focusing on the debate on burden sharing in Norway following the Syrian refugee crisis.
The third part of the book examines in detail refugees' experiences as they encounter different levels in the refugee regime. Lewis and Young's chapter compares ethnographic narratives of Cambodian and Karen refugees in the United States. The chapter on Congolese refugees follows and contextualizes one refugee's effort to "fortify" her case for resettlement. Thomson narrates, from the perspective of a refugee, a repertoire of strategies to win a spot in the resettlement lottery. Instead of suggesting a moral equivalence between strategies that include bribery and prayer, Thomson observes that these are among the measures taken by those with limited information about or power over how decisions are made about their lives. Similar issues surface in the final chapter by Espinoza on refugee experiences in Chile and Brazil.
The concluding chapter of the volume by Suhrke and Gamier distills many of the challenges associated with researching and writing about refugee resettlement in an international comparative context. The resettlement regime (to the extent it can be called one) is weak and fragmented. It is state-centric, with almost no duties held by domestic governments. Furthermore, the regime is normatively diverse: the numbers and criteria of selection for resettlement vary wildly across states. Finally, UNHCR depends on just a handful of states to carry most of the burden of global resettlement.
Indeed, until states embrace a significant degree of responsibility for resettlement, this aspect of the international refugee regime will remain weak and fragmented. This presents a challenge to scholars who are trying to study resettlement. How much can we understand from a comparative perspective, when the international institutions that are the basis for comparison have such little power over the decisions of states? The lack of multilateral authority can make the use of power throughout the regime appear to be arbitrary, and, from the perspective of many refugees, almost random. If one could point to a gap in this volume, it is that it does not seriously consider the role played by international humanitarian organizations within the resettlement regime. These organizations--many of them related to religious groups--are often the thread that ties together the patchwork of international and domestic law, policy, institutions, and individuals implicated in this regime of "humanitarian governance." Oftentimes, they are the actors who keep the regime itself "humanitarian" at all.
Geoffrey Cameron is research associate, Global Migration Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto. He can be contacted at geoffrey.cameron@mail. utoronto.ca.