Book Review Series – 1

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Cuneyt Gurer, PhD

cuneyt.gurer@gc4ss.org

Senior Expert
Global Center for Security Studies

  1. Maley, William. What Is a Refugee? Oxford University Press, 2016.
  2. Jones, Reece. Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move. Verso, 2017.
  3. Polakow-Suransky, Sasha. Go Back to Where You Came from the Backlash against Immigration and the Fate of Western Democracy. Hurst & Company, 2017.

Human displacement is not a novel phenomenon and both migration and immigration have had a significant impact on individual human life, development of societies and even the creation of new states. However, recent refugee crises caused by the Syrian conflict yet created a mix effect and in many cases. It is too early to argue which direction the impact of recent crises will go. These three books provide a background understanding of the refugee issue from many perspectives; the emergence of Westphalian state system and the importance of border control for sovereign states, changes of the global border regime over time and how that affected the conditions of refugees, root causes of refugee crises and how that affects later phases of immigration process for refugees. In this review, the main focus will be on how refugee issue interacts with security and what measures could be taken to overcome security risks of human displacement in the contemporary examples.

Although regional or internal armed conflicts seem to be the main causes for people to leave their country of origins, obviously there are other reasons such as economic opportunity-seeking behavior, alternative lifestyles, environmental causes and oppression by the non-democratic states to the oppositional groups. Maley (2016; p.6) highlights the major causes of “acute refugees” are great political changes or movement of armies. In the classical sense’ refugees are the people who are affected from conflicts however he also introduces another aspect by saying “Refugees are not simply people who have experienced persecution; they can also be people who see what is coming and get out before it is too late” (p.7).

The term “refugee” has many definitions depending on how you look at the issue. Legal definitions of refugee are very technical and many people who carry the risks of being affected by the ongoing violence could fall outside the legal definition. He provides an extensive analysis of the definition of refugees from legal, philosophical and everyday perspectives (Chapter -2). In order to enjoy the protection of a state, a refugee should meet certain criteria that are defined both my international and domestic regulations of the countries.

That’s a point where these three books meet with the concept of security: when the state bureaucracies cannot capture the complexity of the individual application for asylum, the result of the process could be negative which brings the risk of being returned the home country which creates frustration among the young refugee population. The frustration itself is a problem for the success of integration (Polakow-Suransky, 2017: p.29) it could also be a risk for security as it paves the way for the departure from mainstream society. As the definition of the refugee from different perspectives play an important role to grant certain rights to individuals, the decision of the bureaucracy could be very well influenced by the hostile approach of public opinion to refugee populations (Maley, 2016; p.32). In order to prevent that happened, it is important to emphasize the individual characteristics and differences rather than negative sentiments created by the individual cases.

One of the problematic area for highlighted by Jones (2017) is the border control regimes of countries and the right to seek refuge from the oppression of state or the society that the person living in. Not having effective mechanisms between states and the slow nature of international mechanisms as well as militaristic protection of borders pushes refugees towards organized criminal groups to be able to leave the country where the threat exists. It is not an easy dilemma to address, however, that reflects the reality of many individuals dependency to criminal groups to be protected from State oppression and persecution.

Most of the discussions around refugees go around how to stop high displacement which creates significant pressures over states (economic, political, societal etc.) and also further integration of people who managed to reach to their country of destination. What these three books tell us is; “Refugees are symptoms of a system of states that has failed properly to live up to its responsibilities.” (Maley, 2016) and they have the right to seek refuge to protect themselves from State persecution (Jones’ 2017). Often times states fail to give the rights to their citizens they naturally deserved due to non-democratic regimes and oppressive policies they have and violating major human rights increases the likelihood of a displacement. In addition, the lack of effective immigration policies in host/target countries creates a backlash towards immigrants that trigger not the only rise of populist political parties and implementation of anti-immigrant policies but also increases the risks for security both at the local and regional level (Polakow-Suransky, 2017).

That is a challenge both increases the risk of radicalization of refugee groups and occurrence of violent actions against refugee populations in the host country. The solution holds a two-sided and equally important strategy. At the one side, increasing the effectiveness of international mechanisms to stop human rights violations of states towards their own citizens and at the same time to create effective policies that involve more effective channels to apply for asylum reducing the risks of dependency to criminal groups and policies of integration to reduces the risk of radical reactions from and to refugee populations.

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