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What institutional changes within the United Nations framework are required in order to make the international refugee regime more effective?

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Topic 12 (1 June; 2 June): Refugees
In this seminar we will examine the international politics of refugee flows and the interests of developing countries in the international refugee regime. We will examine the effectiveness of the international refugee regime, the response of the international community to the so-called refugee crisis, and the debate on the reform of the international refugee regime.
Briefing Paper Guide:
(a) Address the specific question
What institutional changes within the United Nations framework are required in order to make the international refugee regime more effective?
(b) Give the reader a sense of why this question is important. How does the
question you have devised relate to the broader themes in the course?
(c) Give a concise overview of the main issues (theoretical/practical) and
identify the main positions in relation to the question.
(d) Raise further questions that emerge from your analysis. Please include two
supplementary questions at the end of the paper.
(e) Each Briefing Paper should be a maximum of 2 typed pages (1.5 or double spaced; 12 point font)
exclusive of a bibliography. A further page containing the sources used to write the briefing paper
should be attached.
Assessment Criteria – Briefing Paper:
The Briefing Papers will be assessed (maximum mark = 15) using the following criteria:
Content the ability to summarize key issues in a concise manner (7 marks)
Critical Reflection the ability to engage in a critical manner with the literature (6 marks)
Questions the relevance of the questions posed to the issue discussed (2 marks).
Required Reading:
a). Betts, Alexander (2008) North-South Cooperation in the Refugee Regime: The Role of Linkages Global Governance 14 (2): 157-178.
b). Whitaker, Beth Elise (2008) Funding the International Refugee Regime: Implications for Protection Global Governance 14(2): 241-258.
Recommended Reading:
North-South Co-operation:
Davies, Sara E. (2008) Realistic Yet Humanitarian? The Comprehensive Plan of Action and Refugee Policy in Southeast Asia International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 8(2): 191217.
Hamood, Sara (2008) EULibya Cooperation on Migration: A Raw Deal for Refugees and Migrants? Journal of Refugee Studies 21(1): 19-42.
Schch, Rdiger (2008) UNHCR and the Afghan Refugees in the Early 1980s: Between Humanitarian Action and Cold War Politics Refugee Survey Quarterly 27(1): 45-57.
Reforming the Refugee Regime:
Goodwin-Gill, Guy (2008) The Politics of Refugee Protection Refugee Survey Quarterly 27(1): 8-23.
Lanz, David (2008) Subversion or Reinvention? Dilemmas and Debates in the Context of UNHCRs
Increasing Involvement with IDPs Journal of Refugee Studies 21(2): 192-209.
Orchard, Phil (2010) Protection of internally displaced persons: soft law as a norm-generating mechanism Review of International Studies 36(2): 281-303.
What institutional changes within the United Nations framework are required in order to make the international refugee regime more effective?
            When the international refugee regime started in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it emerged from an unholy alliance of opposing interests. Essentially, the refugees were defined by the politics of condemnation, which has continued to cause confusion in national asylum procedures as well as at the international operations. Nevertheless, the problem of refugees cannot be totally disassociated from politics, and this is the reason the politicization of protection can cause hindrance on the options available for action, which also affects the patently obvious humanitarian considerations. Both the realists and idealists are usually isolated from the consequences of pursuing short-term goals and the facts on the ground (Goodwin-Gill, 2008).
            Nevertheless, the notion of the refugees as unprotected persons can certainly be detached from the politics of the day, and as a result preserved as individuals who disserve dignity, rights, and worth.  Therefore, the questions that arises is whether there are actually workable institutional changes, within the frameworks of UN, which would make UNHCR more accountable and transparent, while at the same time establishing the principles of protection in the affairs of States (Goodwin-Gill, 2008).
            In reference to refuge protection regime, there are a number of distinct gaps that have been discovered, relating to compliance or oversight of the 1951 Convention/1967 Protocol. This also related to nonexistence of any successful responsibility instrument pertinent to UNHCR itself and its officials. Into the bargain, there are the perpetual coordination problems and challenges of UN, such as activating and identifying the bodies most proficient during engagement in the negotiation of agreeable political solutions, humanitarian emergency, or in delivery of protection (Goodwin-Gill, 2008).
            An annual report of the UNHCR from the Branch Offices in Islamabad, underscored some important areas that need to be addressed. In this report, senior government officials have publicly referred to the existence of UNHCR as a convincing substantiation that the Afghans in Pakistan were not freedom fighters, but rather bonafide asylum-seekers.  The report adds that, as it has been reported occasionally, although UNHCR restricts its humanitarian initiative to people it cares for, there is substantial prove that the government is permitting humanitarian assistance to flow into hands of freedom fighters who are taking part in ‘Holy Jihad’, by acts of omission or commission. To start with, this shows that UNHCR should have more control over the operation. The Pakistan Government was adamant on administering the refugee assistance, and this is the reason President Zia, through States and Frontier Regions Division (SAFRON), implemented the administration (Schöch, 2008).
             It was surprising to note that this Division employed approximately 7,000 officers, far more than what UNHCR could gather, and this points to the importance of empowering the agency to be able to tackle such incidences. Furthermore, if UNHCR was more prepared, this could not have led to a discrepancy of control and awareness in relation to the villages belonging to the refugees, which was totally planed by Pakistan. What’s more, if UNHCR had more control powers, this could have prevented the situation that led to Zia insisting that all aid should be managed by Pakistan’s government before accepting it to flow through the UNHCR (Schöch, 2008).
            In addition, the Islamabad report is a revelation that the host country should take the responsibility of ensuring the security of refugees, though it is the responsibility of the UN Security Council, in some cases. The UNHCR should be empowered to have the mandate and capacity to separate active fighters from civilians, or rather to protect the civilians from military assault.  The other problem that should be addressed is that of the UNHCR over relying on its member states, especially US (its biggest donor) – this leaves it with little influence to exercise its humanitarian mandate (Schöch, 2008).
            There are a number of changes that needs to be put into effect to address the problems that emanate from the funding of international regimes. First, for the regimes that depend heavily on external funding, UNHCR should make efforts to avoid shortage of such funds because this could reduce the incentives for participating states to remain committed. Secondly, UNHCR has an independent impact in the behavior of the participants through its control of budgeting and information process. As such, UNHCR should institute a strong framework to guide its presentation of information and budgets, such that development of budgets and determination of regional program priorities presented to the donors leads to acquisition of sufficient funds (Lanz, 2008).
            Finally, the structure of the international refugee should be reformed to provide UNHCR with a dependable budget for its operations because it faces difficulties in raising funds for refugee operations, hence hampering protection standards. Such reforms should also enable UNHCR to access non-earmarked funding. Furthermore, to address the agency’s difficulties in allocating the scarce resources, its budget should be funded in full every year. In addition, to avoid further weakening of the regime, both donor and host countries must remain accountable to their obligations. Ensuring minimal standards of refugee protection across the globe, through exchange of ideas and discussion of new proposals, can be an informed direction towards increasing the overall compliance (Whitaker, 2008).
            The creation of linkages between states’ perceived interest in areas such as development, security, peace building and migration on one hand and the refugee issue, on the other hand can be used to encourage the states to participate towards refugee protection. Therefore, the credibility of the linkages that UNHCR has build between migration, security, and development on one hand and refugee protection on the other hand should be strengthened. Although the states’ interest is not usually tantamount to refugees’ interests, and that the interest of interstate cooperation can contradict refugee protection, discovering the possibility of linkages is essential. This is because such linkages underscore the role that UNHCR can play in channeling, guiding, and reforming states’ interests into improved refugee protection or protracted refugee sudations or mass influx (Betts, 2008)………………………………..
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