Mahanirban Calcutta Research group


Global Protection of Migrants and Refugees (2020)

Concept Note

Global Protection of Migrants and Refugees (2020)

Concept Note 

Fifth Research and Orientation Programme in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, 2020

1. Introduction:

1.1 The annual winter course on forced migration run by Calcutta Research Group (CRG) from 2003 to 2013 was succeeded in 2015 by a redesigned annual research and orientation workshop on issues of migration and forced migration. The first research and orientation workshop was held in 2015 with collaboration of the ICSSR and the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asia Studies, Kolkata, and the second workshop was held in 2016 in collaboration with the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva and the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asia Studies, Kolkata. This new design and structure of the programme was put in full shape in 2018 with the help and collaboration of the Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung (RLS) when the third research workshop was held. The annual workshop is held in November, the fourth being held in November 2019.

1.2 The third workshop culminating in a conference was designed as an event to focus on the theme of global protection of the migrants and refugees as declared by the global compacts and the UN Millennium Goals. It passed the Kolkata Declaration, which was circulated widely and discussed in various circles and countries. The workshop revolved around six working groups, whose recommendations were discussed in the conference. The fundamental theme of protection continues as the theme of the fourth annual research and orientation workshop (2019).

1.3 The fifth workshop will follow the same structure and goals. It will have working groups and panels on various (five to six) sub-themes including rights of labour migrants; stateless population groups; victims of discrimination on the bases of gender, caste, race, and access to resources; people in precarious condition in borderland areas; national, regional, and global frameworks of protection, and the new global compacts for refugees and migrants. In 2018 the overall emphasis was on the global compacts for protection of refugees and migrants. This proposal is based on the need to continue the theme of protection as declared under the global compacts, and maintain the focus on the precarious situation of various rightless groups of people including vast numbers of wandering labouring population, and disenfranchised and discriminated groups fleeing wars and violence. This proposal also maintains the emphasis on the fault lines of gender, caste, race, and resources in the map of migration and protection.

1.4 This proposal also aims to strengthen the structure of the programme, which has both research and orientation dimensions, and has the following features: (a) a research segment whose findings will strengthen the programme; (b) four day workshop revolving around research papers on select themes of protection; (c) a half day field visit; (d) the workshop ending with a one day conference with experts, activists, and policy makers addressing the main issues of protection; (e) a range of publications and visual products (including a map of migration) with the aim of wide publicity and dissemination of the results of the deliberations in the workshop and the conference; (f) public lectures in collaborations with universities, colleges, and other institutions, and dialogues held in collaboration with various public forums in different cities of India; (g) and a media workshop. These will be relevant to the task of strengthening the fund of knowledge on migration and forced migration, policy deliberations on these issues, the networks of activists and researchers working in this area, and finally dissemination.

1.5 The crucial task is to understand, and this understanding will form the conceptual basis of the programme, namely: Since the refugee and the migration issue remains relevant as in the previous years, the programme is built on the continuity of the theme of global protection. Yet, what has changed in the landscape of protection in the past few years? Have the fault lines and the crisis in the protection mechanisms become more acute? Are there new issues to be discussed and deliberated upon? In other words, while the programme will be based on the continued relevance of the theme of global protection, it will have to demonstrate alertness to new issues.

2. Particular Aspects of the Proposed Fifth Research and Orientation Workshop:

2.1 Thus, while the fifth research and orientation workshop will be built on the essentials of the previous workshops, in particular the third and the fourth, it will also bring to discussion the new features of the situation in the global and regional situations of migration and forced migration requiring new strategies of protection. Some of the new features are:

(a) Migration flows have taken increasing complexity, which indeed is one of the main marks of contemporary time. Refugees, asylum seekers, labour migrants, ecological refugees, stateless groups – all are rolling into one massive and mixed phenomenon signifying population shifts in global geo-political and geo-economic context. In this context, it has become even more important to study labour flows and labour control systems regulated by institutions, infrastructures, processes, and practices. Equally important is to study the new formations of space and time effected by footloose families, transformation of cities, existence of Diasporas, global commodity chains including care chains, and migrants’ modes of encountering borders, boundaries, immigration control systems, surveillance systems, interception methods, etc. This situation - marked by (a) massive and mixed flows and (b) transformation of the migration dynamics - puts the old strategies of protection at odds with the evolving scenario. The categories of protection are found of decreasing relevance. The implications cut across legal, national, administrative lines of protection.

(b) In view of the increasing conceptual breadth and theoretical sophistication of migration and forced migration scholarship, historic knowledge of patterns and forms of mobility is even more important. As one commentary points out, contemporary migration scholarship is still deficient in historical awareness and hence unable to bring out the political and economic truths. Notwithstanding the wide range of research methodologies, and reflections on the diverse sites and subjects of migration, we lack the focus that can produce a compelling critique of conventional knowledge of migration. In the rich array of methods (quantitative, computational, qualitative, mixed-method, scalar, social network-centric, ethnographic, life-story-oriented, participatory, and visual documentation and visualization approaches and techniques) the neglect of history is pronounced. Therefore in spite of the rich methodological developments the field fails to fully explore and interrogate the realities of migration and forced migration that overwhelm our time. We need contextually grounded research yet critical in conceptual treatment. Thus new pedagogic basis must address the concerns, such as:

• How do we research new space making practices and temporalities at various levels (global, regional, national, local, etc.) caused or influenced by migration and forced migration? Related to this, how do we map migrations over time and space?

• What kinds of methodological approaches to seriously contemplate multi-sited research and develop networks of scholarship, in short transform our academic engagement from individual or group scholarship to a platform mode of investigation and cognition?

• How to enable migration scholarship for the task of boundary-crossing?

• Finally, how to devise knowledge practices that can be mobilised against institutionalized practices reproducing racism, patriarchy, and forms of global domination, and pave the way for a critical approach in our migration research that can open up new imaginations of a political society?

2.2 Migration (including forced migration) has taken centre stage in public and academic discourse, in some cases politics itself. Given the contemporary relevance of the theme, the proposal aims to engage with critical theoretical and methodological approaches to migration and forced migration studies. The workshop will aim to engage with the new realities of migration as well as various approaches to the theoretical, methodological, and legal challenges to grasp the complex phenomenon of migration. The workshop and the conference will provide a space for debate and exchange between academia and practice, and will aim at stimulating discussion between scholars, legal practitioners, media activists, representatives of what is called the “civil society”, and personnel belonging to governments and international humanitarian agencies.

2.3 This is possible, when we expand the ambit of the approach to the programme, yet keep the focus on the theme of protection. At one level, we may redesign the sub-themes partially to engage with the question of “migration and politics” through research papers and workshop module topics. However we have to maintain the focus on protection – for which the UN-initiated global compacts on refugees and migrants remain the best flag. This is a paradoxical task. But given the changing realities, this is the best conceptual template of the programme. 2.4 This also means combining “global outlook with local experiences” – both for understanding the interface of the issue of migration and democracy and politics in general, and the complexities involved in the notion of protection.

2.5 To take an instance: never before migration and migrants have become so central to democratic politics as now when we have thousands upon thousands (nearly two million) have been declared non-citizens. Are they “surplus citizens” as one analyst puts it, “residents without nationality”, “illegal immigrants to be detained in camps”, or simply a “vast army of disenfranchised labour” ready to work wherever ordered - a sort of sub-population? This question has raised its head in many countries. If this is a global phenomenon, our orientation programme must address the central question of how sections of national populations belonging to lower classes are divested of national identities. This concerns first and foremost the migrants, who are frequently organised on a national and ethnic basis, and yet will not be able to live on this basis once they are divested of any national identity. The “arc of protection” (a phrase made famous by a group of leading refugee researchers) is indeed problematic from this angle, because migration and the state of mobility challenge every foundational principle of liberal political society. The orientation programme therefore demands a self-critical theory and collective practice that eschews the easy answers of fixed collective identities and the “protection” offered by the international system, the system of nation states, and the present legal-developmental ideology. The question to be investigated is: what are the other possible sites of protection and affirmation of the rights and justice for the refugees, migrants, and mobile population groups? What are the historical resources we can draw upon?

2.6 To collectively deliberate on this question, one crucial theme requiring attention is the dynamics of migration as a theme in politics, government, and population management.

2.7 To embark on such a critical venture is to elevate the quality of the programme, make it more rigorous, and focused. Such a framework will not restrict the reach of the programme as may be feared, but expand it, because it will address the issues of the time. The research framework (of proposals submitted by the participants in particular) has to be informed by the inquiries of the programme. Likewise, the partnerships involved in the programme and the research report will be animated by these new enquiries. Guidelines for participants’ research will have to be therefore clearer. The component formed by CRG’s own research has to have similar qualities and structure.

2.8 As a whole, the programme will aim widen partnerships. It will have clear idea of the risks, the ways it can manage them, and the nature of the projected final outcomes. CRG had employed these rich techniques in other programmes in the past (for instance in WACC supported programmes on “media and conflict”, peace audits and dialogues, and survey of voices of the IDPs in camps). These methods need to be integrated in the work in migration and forced migration studies.

2.9 In view of these developments, the outcome of the programme has to be more diversified. Currently the outcome is mainly in the form of research-based papers, articles and reports for media, and visual products on a small scale. It is understandable that CRG as a critical research collective will bring out research products. However, the deliverables can be more imaginative – like television discussions, a legal compendium, specifically commissioned reports to be used as primary material, small scale dialogues, and other components coming out of follow up activities (mentioned earlier). Both digital and arts and humanities based approaches can be deployed in planning the outcomes. Thus, along with research based writings, publications, and orientation activity, the programme will aim to have more diverse components and results, such as: migration maps, various digital outputs, a reader in South Asian refugee law, media inputs, and visual and audio products. Public campaigns and publicity measures have been satisfactory. The task is, how to take these forward without jeopardising the standard and safety of the programme? .

3. Segments of the Proposed Programme (with time line):

3.1 The following eleven segments will make the structure of the programme:

(i) A planning workshop (January-February 2020);

(ii) Research on four themes: (a) humanitarianism and humanitarian protection; (b) research methods in forced migration studies; (c) labour migration, and access to resources, and protection; and (d) migration, citizenship, public politics, and statelessness – with one of the four research themes may be pursued in form an inquiry report (February-October 2020);

(iii) A legal compendium/reader of refugee law in South Asia (January – October 2020);

(iv)Two dialogues outside Kolkata (Delhi and Hyderabad/Mumbai/Guwahati/Allahabad) resulting in reports (June and December 2020);

(v) Two public lectures in collaboration with universities or other public institutions with the audio records being uploaded on the website (May and November-December 2020);

(vi) A five day research and orientation workshop and conference (November 2020 with preparatory activities starting from January 2020);

(vii) Research paper publications and publications of REFUGEE WATCH and Refugeewatchonline (January-December 2020);

(viii) Field visits (March-December 2020)

(ix) Educational, publicity, and advocacy material – print, digital, and online (January-December 2020)

(x) A comprehensive report (December 2020)

3.2 The entire programme will be led under the CRG Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies. It will be managed by a CRG research collective consisting of staff researchers, administration, a research and programme coordinator, a research and programme associate and an assistant, the contracted researchers, and the module coordinators. The team will be led by the CRG Director.

Researchers & Experts

Events & Announcements

Public Lectures / Webinars/ Audio Visual Materials



Disseminations / Resources / Important Links

visit counter
In association with