A conference on the State of the Global Protection System for Refugees and Migrants, 2018: Impressions and Outcomes

The inaugural session of the conference

Aditi Mukherjee writes a report on the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group conference dealing with protection system for refugees and migrants, organised in Kolkata, India, in November 2018.

The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (2016) recognised that the existing international regime of refugee and migrant protection needed a new push towards strengthening measures for protection. It was decided that two new global compacts – one for refugees and the other for migration will be adopted by the UN. However questions arise: how different will be the global compacts and what will be the promises and paradoxes they will come with? Through a six day research workshop and international conference organised in Kolkata by the Calcutta Research Group (CRG) on the State of the Global Protection System for Refugees and Migrants (25-30 November 2018) in collaboration with the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, these questions were explored against the backdrop of global, regional and national realities of population flows. Academics, activists, functionaries of international humanitarian institutions, and journalists from eighteen countries participated in this event.

Professor Ranabir Samaddar delivering a lecture on ‘Promises and Paradoxes of a Global Gaze’.jpg

(Prof. Ranabir Samddar delivering a lecture on ‘Promises and Paradoxes of a Global Gaze’)

The discussions of the panels of the workshop and conference fed into each other and certain issues were repeatedly raised. The Global Compacts were discussed from various perspectives. Professor Ranabir Samaddar (CRG) reviewed the Compacts by arguing that a new developmental gaze which links protection to development have turned the refugees from subjects of protection to subjects of neoliberal development. Refugee protection has become an affair of technocratic management which is oriented towards the necessities of the market and development goals. As refugees have become subjects of development, concerns about their welfare have declined. He emphasised that the compacts of speak of rights of migrants in a minimal way. Professor Jennifer Hyndman (York University) presented a trenchant critique of the global compacts in the first panel session on The Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants: Promises and Paradoxes. She argued that such compacts do little to change the complicated circumstances of protracted forced displacements which are entwined with the global mechanisms of neoliberal capitalism. The latter aspect was explored further in a panel on Global Capitalism and Refugee and Migrant Labour. Professor Byasdeb Dasgupta (Kalyani University) highlighted how the cheap labour of refugees and migrants forms a core aspect of neoliberal global capitalism. Professor Ilina Sen (Tata Institute for Social Sciences, Mumbai, retired) discussed the conditions of Asian female migrants who work as domestic workers in the Gulf region and the gendered nature of violence routinely experienced by them. Professor Irudaya Rajan (Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram) analysed the exploitative labour brokerage mechanisms for female domestic internal migrant workers in India.

A panel on the NRC in session

(A panel on the National Register of Citizenship in progress)

A panel on the Mediterranean Refugee ‘Crisis’ explored the context and content of the so called refugee ‘crisis’ that the Global North, especially, Europe is facing in relation to the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Professor David Newman (Ben-Gurion University), Dr Federico Rahola (University of Genova), Professor Giorgia Dona (University of East London) and Professor Petar Bojanic (University of Belgrade) spoke on different aspects of the migration ‘crisis’ around the Mediterranean region. Here, refugees are attempting to escape war-torn areas while also contending with anti-migrant, xenophobic reactions by European countries combined with a draconian regime of border management, aimed at ‘governing refugees at a distance’. The discussions emphasised how the regime of borderlands is a dynamic, shifting and expanding notion, working through multiple governance strategies such as offshore detention techniques and hotspots. Migrants in turn create their own ‘underground Europe’ through counter-conducts attempting to challenge the exclusionary regime of borders.

Professor William Walters delivering the Valedictory Address

(Prof. William Walter delivering the valedictory address)

The activities of the research workshop and conference revolved around six major themes: Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants: promises and paradoxes; faultlines in forced migration including those of race, religion and gender; power and responsibility in the global protection system: the need to redefine the responsibility to protect; global capitalism and refugee/migrant labour; statelessness; migrants and movements across Asia.

The discussions of the panels of the workshop and conference fed into each other and certain issues were repeatedly raised. The Global Compacts were discussed from various perspectives. Professor Ranabir Samaddar (CRG) reviewed the Compacts by arguing that a new developmental gaze which links protection to development have turned the refugees from subjects of protection to subjects of neoliberal development. Refugee protection has become an affair of technocratic management which is oriented towards the necessities of the market and development goals. As refugees have become subjects of development, concerns about their welfare have declined. He emphasised that the compacts of speak of rights of migrants in a minimal way. Professor Jennifer Hyndman (York University) presented a trenchant critique of the global compacts in the first panel session on The Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants: Promises and Paradoxes. She argued that such compacts do little to change the complicated circumstances of protracted forced displacements which are entwined with the global mechanisms of neoliberal capitalism. The latter aspect was explored further in a panel on Global Capitalism and Refugee and Migrant Labour. Professor Byasdeb Dasgupta (Kalyani University) highlighted how the cheap labour of refugees and migrants forms a core aspect of neoliberal global capitalism. Professor Ilina Sen (Tata Institute for Social Sciences, Mumbai, retired) discussed the conditions of Asian female migrants who work as domestic workers in the Gulf region and the gendered nature of violence routinely experienced by them. Professor Irudaya Rajan (Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram) analysed the exploitative labour brokerage mechanisms for female domestic internal migrant workers in India.

A glimpse of a field visit to the migrant quarters at the Khidirpur Dock, Kolkata

(Field visit to migrant quarters located near Kidderpore dock)

In his Valedictory lecture, Professor William Walters (Carleton University) discussed the aerial geography of forced migration and how airways are increasingly used for deportation of migrants to further the geo-strategic manoeuvrings by receiving states, especially those in the Global North.

An interesting part of event were field visits by workshop and conference participants to different migrant quarters of Kolkata. Participants toured Kolkata’s labour migrant quarters spread across the East Calcutta Wetlands and the Khidirpur dock. There was an hour-long interaction with labour migrants at the Khidirpur Docks, who migrate mainly from villages in the Mithila region inWest Bengal’s neighbouring state of Bihar to Kolkata in search of work. The interaction was facilitated by a platform called Know Your Neighbour, Kolkata who work for maintaining communal harmony in West Bengal. The migrant workers frankly discussed their lives in the slums at the dock. They have migrated in the face of poverty in their native villages. The men live alone in the dock area, work as informal labour in various capacities and send money back to their families who continue to live in their native villages in Bihar. During the interactions they highlighted the lack of basic hygiene and amenities in these settlements.

Professor Meghna Guhathakurta releasing the Kolkata Declaration (1)

(Prof. Meghna Guhathakurta releasing the Kolkata declaration)

Building on the key ideas and arguments presented at the workshop-conference, the Kolkata Declaration, a resolution on the status of refugees and migrants was adopted and released on the final day. It highlights the highly uneven geographies of protection for refugees and migrants and calls for elimination of all forms of discriminations tied to race, religion, caste, ability, sexuality, gender and class. It stresses the need to strengthen the rights of stateless persons whose numbers are growing worldwide. It urges that the perpetrators of violence leading to forced displacement should be held accountable for their actions. It points to the less-acknowledged reality that the Asian region is one of the most volatile in terms of forced displacements and emphasises the urgent need for a new regional framework of protection for Asia. It is expected that the Kolkata declaration will have an impact on international organisations working with the refugees and migrants like the UNHCR, IOM and other state and non state organisations and individuals working for the empowerment of migrant or refugee communities and displaced people more broadly.

[Cover image: Inaugural session of the workshop]

Aditi Mukherjee is a Research Associate at CRG and a Ph D researcher in History at the Leiden University. She can be reached at aditi@mcrg.ac.in. 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: