As a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, a major location for the resettlement of refugees, host of an internationally recognized refugee status determination system, and a prominent actor in the international system with a stated commitment to humanitarian issues, Canada is well positioned to provide leadership in standard setting and implementation in research, practice and policy to address the root causes of forced migration and refugee flows, to support resettlement when required, and to develop more predictable, effective and comprehensive solutions to the plight of refugees and forced migrants. Canada is already an active participant in the international refugee protection regime. It is one of the world's largest refugee resettlement countries, accepting some 10,000 refugees a year through a combination of government and privately-sponsored cases. It is also a significant donor to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), contributing some $30 million to the organization in 2006. Canada is also a leader in international refugee policy. It has been an active member of UNHCR's Executive Committee for decades, and has used its standing in the international community to further a number of initiatives designed to enhance the protection of refugees.
Canada has long provided leadership in the field of refugee research. Founded in 1988, the Centre for Refugee Studies is successor to the Refugee Documentation Project created in 1981 for the conservation and analysis of research documents and data collected by Operation Lifeline during the Indochinese Boat People crisis. At the time of its founding, the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University became the second centre of its kind in the world, following the Refugee Studies Programme (changed to the Refugee Studies Centre in the late 1990s) created at Oxford University. CRS remains, next to the Centre at Oxford, one of the largest and most active research centres specifically in Refugee Studies, in the world. Over forty academics across a range of disciplines at York University are affiliated with CRS. CRS publishes Refuge, the only Canadian scholarly refereed journal that focuses specifically on refugee issues.
The institutionalization of scholarship in “refugee studies” began in Liechtenstein in 1950 with the founding of the Association for the Study of the World Refugee Program (Black, 2001). From the start, a solutions-oriented policy thrust emerged that continues to characterize the field. “Refugee studies” has expanded over the past 15 years to include “forced migration”, a shift that acknowledges a broader understanding of human displacement. Within this period, beginning in the early 1990s, the number of refugee and humanitarian crises grew: international relief aid for regions in conflict increased fivefold during the 1990s, to a high of $5 billion a year. At the same time, long-term development aid dropped overall (Boutwell and Klare, 2000:51; Giles, 1996). The United Nations refugee agency attempted to help displaced people “at home” before they technically and legally became refugees by crossing the border (Hyndman, 2003). There are presently an estimated 13.9 million refugees and asylum-seekers worldwide living in exile under many different circumstances (World Refugee Survey, 2007: Table 1), including 1.1 million new refugees in 2006 alone (ibid.).
The median length of civil conflicts is now eight years, which means that many refugees fleeing persecution or violence may be displaced from their home countries for a decade or more; indeed, the average duration of a refugee situation has increased from nine years in 1993 to more than seventeen years by 2004 (UNHCR, 2004). Furthermore, the numbers of internally displaced persons continues to increase at twice the rate of those refugees who are in exile outside their countries of origin; as of 2006, there were an estimated 24.5 million internally displaced persons in the world, affecting at least 52 countries (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2006). Locations of immediate concern for internally displaced are Sudan (including Darfur), the DRC, Uganda, Colombia, and Iraq, while there are dozens of protracted refugee situations across the world, including those in Kenya, Tanzania, Thailand, Pakistan and Iran. Only 69.4 thousand refugees have been resettled in 2006-2007 (World Refugee Survey 2007: Table 1), while fewer have found a ‘durable’ solution through repatriation or local integration. At the same time, the world is becoming increasingly concerned about new forms of forced migration as a result of climate change and global warming.
As these various trends indicate, the phenomenon of forced migration has grown in complexity in the early years of the twenty-first century, and now poses an array of pressing policy questions on which scholars, bureaucrats, and non-governmental bodies must collaborate to address (UNHCR, 2006; Loescher et al., 2008). While there are a range of critical policy issues covering pre-migration, migration and post-migration experiences, we have identified five initial priority areas. As the years progress, RRN priorities will respond to new and emerging areas. The following issues shape the interactive associations that are described below in Stage 1 of our Cluster Activities and Impacts.
- In/security in the Canadian Refugee Determination System. One of the deepest ironies of contemporary regimes of migration control is that programs developed to promote national and international security have produced negative impacts on the security of migrants themselves. What measures have been taken in the name of national Canadian security and what are the negative and diverse consequences for refugees?
- Refugee resettlement
- Settlement and Integration Canada is accepting large groups of refugees who have experienced prolonged stays in refugee camps with considerable disruption, oppression and trauma. Approximately three thousand Karen refugees have been resettled in Canada in 2005-07 and plans are in place to bring five thousand Bhutanese refugees. Practitioners are identifying high levels of stress among these people and are concerned that our current support system is not adequate. What is the best model of resettlement for refugees who have experienced trauma? How should policy makers revisit the reception and resettlement of refugees from protracted refugee situations?
- Protracted refugee situations, internally displaced populations The UNHCR has observed that in protracted refugee situations (PRS), material dependency is associated with inadequate access to basic rights (Global Consultations 2002 in Smith 2004). To what extent, if any, is the longevity of PRS and the massive increase in internally displaced populations (IDPs) linked to the expansion of humanitarian aid, the concomitant decline of sustainable development aid, and the rise of the fragile state and peacebuilding debates?
- The externalization of asylum This includes issues such as extraterritorial refugee status determination procedures whereby countries such as Australia and Italy have attempted to deal with asylum claims outside their territories as a strategy to limit their obligations under international law and to reduce asylum claims. Interdiction and policies of exclusion can result in human smuggling and trafficking. Could more radical research on these issues help to reduce abuse and enhance access to the protection that is promised in the Geneva Convention on refugees (Black 2003:35)?
- Environmental and development induced displacement Massive internal displacement is currently being caused by economic development through direct evictions and through environmental and economic side-effects. In addition, the pursuit of economic gain has created zones of instability and violence. The now emerging additional dimension is global climate change caused by global industrialization, which threatens people’s livelihoods and security and thus large-scale displacement. What policies concerning refugee and IDP flows that are associated with a growing global environmental crisis and its side-effects must be urgently developed?
- Critical Issues in International Refugee Law Security considerations have reached unprecedented levels since 9/11 and have had an impact on the application of the Exclusion Clauses under Article 1F of the 1951 Convention. Moreover, developments in international law have highlighted the relationship between those determined excluded under Article 1F and the obligation of states and/or the international community to prosecute persons who have committed international crimes. A number of jurisdictions have consolidated Convention refugee status with subsidiary forms of protection. This has raised a number of questions and concerns regarding overlapping and competing forms of international protection, evidentiary burdens, and the standards of proof for those fearing serious human rights violations. Serious violations of economic, social and cultural rights have increasingly formed the bases for those seeking international protection. These claims have raised legal issues regarding what, if any, infringement on a person’s right to health services, education, to practice their profession or to earn a livelihood, or to live in a reasonably safe environment, may form the basis of a claim to international protection.