The Refugee System: National Sovereignty and Human Rights

May 4, 2023, 12:00 pm1:15 pm



Event Description

What explains forced migration? The answers to this question are fragmented across different bodies of academic knowledge. Conflict studies examine the logic of violence that prompts some people to flee, but once refugees have left their places of origin, they fall off the radar screen unless they are implicated in further violence or post-conflict reconstruction. Policy-oriented refugee studies tend to take as their starting point people who have already crossed an international border to seek sanctuary, but these studies often pay little attention to those who wanted but were never able to leave their countries in the first place. International migration studies have highly developed theories of labor migration, but have been slow to integrate insights of economically-driven movement with flight from violence and persecution. In short, understandings of forced migration tend to fall into distinct siloes that hide connections across places of origin, transit, and hosting. By contrast, the approach Arar and FitzGerald elaborate in The Refugee System: A Sociological Approach (Polity Press 2023) brings together insights from conflict, refugee, and international migration studies. Drawing upon historical and contemporary cases, the systems approach focuses on the connections among stages of displacement in different countries to illuminate what the siloes inadvertently conceal. We identify six ways in which systems and siloed approaches differ: historicism, legalism, explanations of displacement, attention to both immobility and mobility, lives beyond durable solutions, and connections among stages of displacement. These insights become clearer by following particular people facing violence. A longitudinal case study of one extended Syrian family with members in Syria, Jordan, and Canada, and their contemplation of options in Europe and elsewhere, reveals how household decision-making interacts with policies across the globe. We introduce the new economics of displacement to analyze how refugee families make decisions.

  • Effron Center for the Study of America
  • Program in American Studies