Mahanirban Calcutta Research group



A Research Workshop and International Conference on The State of the Global Protection System for Refugees and Migrants
(Kolkata, 25 November – 30 November 2018)

Concept Note 

New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants: The UN initiative on the global compact on refugees is the background of this proposal. On 19 September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. It set in motion a complex negotiation process to culminate by September 2018 the “Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration”. In adopting the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, the 193 UN Member States recognized the need for a comprehensive approach to human mobility and enhanced cooperation at the global level. It was a landmark political declaration directed at improving the way in which the international community has hitherto responded to large movements of refugees and migrants, and to protracted refugee situations. However, noticeable is also the fact that the Declaration envisaged that the global compact would be developed through an open, transparent and inclusive process of consultations and negotiations, and the effective participation of various relevant stakeholders, including among others, the private sector, parliaments, and the Diaspora communities. The New York Declaration also set out a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), with specific actions needed to ease pressure on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, expand access to third-country solutions, and support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. It called upon the UNHCR to apply the framework to particular situations, in close coordination with relevant States and involving other United Nations agencies and stakeholders, and to assess its impact with a view to refining it further. Accordingly, the High Commissioner for Refugees will propose a Global Compact on Refugees in his annual report to the General Assembly in 2018. It will have a Programme of Action underpinning the Framework that will set out to ensure its full implementation. Again, noticeable is the fact that all of these actions are to be undertaken in accordance with the multi-stakeholder approach endorsed by the General Assembly in the New York Declaration involving national and local authorities, international organizations, international financial institutions, regional organizations, regional coordination and partnership mechanisms, civil society partners, including faith-based organizations, academia, the private sector, media, and the refugees themselves.

Yet the contrast between the Declaration and the global reality of the protection system today is starker than ever. To take only few instances: (a) Increased humanitarian caseloads in cities; (b) Increased racialisation of the refugee and the migrant question; (c) Increasingly protracted nature worldwide of the condition of displacement; (d) Increasing statelessness; (e) The stark contrast between the power of the global system of protection and the responsibility at the margin; (f) Contrast between the corporate strategy of making refugees and immigrants market enabled actors and the reality of refugee and immigrant labour as dirt labour in service of a global capitalist economy; (g) Contrast between the gendered nature of forced migration (along with other fault lines in the map of forced migration) and a seemingly homogenous global protection policy; (h) Finally, the situation of mixed and massive flows (acknowledged by the UNHCR) that call for a policy of protection fundamentally different and radical in orientation from the present, now in tatters.

The call for the global compact is already an indication of the current state of the protection system. In this situation the rights of the refugees, IDPs, asylum seekers, stateless population groups, migrant labour, masses of illegal immigrant labour (known often as irregular migrant) need to be seen as various parts of a single agenda of justice. In this context, the principle of responsibility must be redefined (away from the “responsibility to protect” as currently defined). B. Asian Regions, particularly South Asia, in Focus

The Asian region is now possibly the most volatile one in terms of population flows. The long drawn war in Afghanistan followed by wars in Iraq and Syria, and now the massive exodus of Rohingyas from Myanmar have produced in the last two decades thousands and thousands of refugees, asylum seekers, immigrant labour, and trafficked girls, children, and women. We have to add to this the preceding flows in South Asia region following decolonisation and partition of the Indian sub-continent, Bangladesh War, Tibetan refugee flows, ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, borders and boundary conflicts in the region, minority exodus from Myanmar to Thailand, Vietnamese boat refugees, forced migration due to conflicts around enclaves in Central Asia and the Caucasus region, trafficking in labour and sex from the region from the nineties of the last century, Palestinian displacement following the creation of Israel and the subsequent annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, and finally massive flows in the last two decades into Jordan and Turkey. There is no regional convention on refugee protection (unlike Africa), no Asia wide understanding, with many states not acceding to the 1951 Convention (which by itself is becoming an irrelevant issue). Added to these is the issue of migrant labour flows (to a great extent illegal labour migration) into Malaysia, India, Turkey, and other countries from other Asian nations like Bangladesh or Syria or Afghanistan. It is a situation marked by tight and brutal border controls, violent borderlands, no labour rights, and below subsistence wages. It is also a situation that confirms that today’s population flows are mixed and massive. The Asian context is also characterised by regional features such as, Australian policies of off-shore internment of shelter seekers from various Asian regions, the Bali Process, common dimensions of labour migration in countries of the region, and growing statelessness. This situation demands a holistic approach towards ensuring human rights, protection, and justice, in place of piecemeal policies dovetailed for old and redundant administrative categories like refugees, asylum seekers, illegal immigrant, trafficked women, trafficked labour, boat refugees, etc. It is true at the same time that in many ways the Asian situation reflects the global migration scenario as a whole.

South Asia and India in particular have witnessed some of the massive population flows. At the same time countries of this region as well as Southeast Asian region have hosted large numbers of refugees unimagined on a European scale. There are judicial decisions, legal decisions, political movements in defence of the rights of the migrants and forced migrants. The issue of the IDPs and the stateless population groups has also come to attention. The proposed conference will take place in this background and will have the larger Asian situation in mind, while the focus will be on South Asia and the neighbouring countries around the South Asian region. Since migration and forced migration issues are dominantly postcolonial in nature, therefore the conference will aim to have participation from global South in order to have wide ranging exchange of experiences. It has to be remembered that South Asia as a region had emerged out of a violent partition that displaced in a conservative estimate some 15 million people. There are other estimates that put the number much higher. The impact of partition was enormous. In colonial times there were massive displacements due to conflicts, contest over resources, exploitation by colonial masters, and subsequent protests. Even if we put aside the history of past displacements, and concern ourselves to present day South Asia we still have to begin with forced migration. Also one has to note that any analysis of forced migration in South Asia has to inevitably begin with India, the largest country in the region. It has to be mentioned that India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. If one does not count Afghanistan, none of the South Asian states has signed either the Convention or the Protocol. However, these countries have ratified in the recent past several other human rights instruments. All of them ratified the four Geneva Conventions as well. Yet South Asian states have been reluctant to accept the 1951 Convention though there are no official reasons given by the states for such a decision. In India, the refugee like all other migrants falls under the jurisdiction of the Foreigners Act (1946) and the Passport Act (1955). These Acts are relevant to all non-citizens alike, and they make entering India without valid papers offence. But this is not to say that India has not given refugee status to any group. Today the most critical of all refugee groups in South Asia are the Rohingyas from Burma, who number around 100,000 (registered and unregistered).

Yet the regional record of South Asia with refugees is not completely negative. Like India, Pakistan has received and hosted for nearly two decades thousands of Afghan refugees; Bangladesh has received nearly half a million Rohingya refugees; and Nepal about 100,000 South Bhutanese refugees besides hosting Tibetan refugees. Most refugee groups seeking refuge are usually accommodated within the region. Also, refugee protection jurisprudence has helped the refugees, and Courts in the region have upheld human rights obligations. However, refugee protection in recent years has been perceived as a problem. Attitude to refugees has gradually changed all over Asia with fresh bouts of migrations. Racism has been on the rise. With considerations and discourses of security on the rise, citizens now have a threat perception of footloose people including footloose labour. This has led human rights communities to seek new protection strategies for refugees. But still a particular pertinent issue is that refugees are neither the only nor the largest group of forced migrants in South Asia. Side by side with the refugees are the internally displaced persons (IDPS) who hold an equal importance in the construction, determination, and delineation of the history of forced migration. Apart from the IDPs there are a number of stateless people living in endangered situation. Add to that thousands of women, children, and men trafficked for purposes of sex, labour, organ transplant, etc. Also, given massive labour migration under conditions of rightlessness and duress, the distinctions between migrants and forced migrants especially when the migrating people belong to vulnerable communities are fast disappearing. We need further study and analyses of these issues to develop a framework of justice.

CRG has the experience of running for twelve years an annual winter workshop on issues of forced migration, racism, and xenophobia. Every year the course had a focal theme (Please see the past programmes section of CRG website for details of how the course was conducted - This year CRG is organising a research cum orientation workshop (with one month of online interaction) of 3 days of discussion in Kolkata, which will be followed by a 2 day plenary conference (25-30 November 2018) on ‘the State of the Global Protection System for Refugees and Migrants’. The event is organised in collaboration with the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS), Rabindra Bharati University, Presidency University, Jadavpur University and West Bengal State University. 

Details of the Events 

Calcutta Research Group is organising a research and orientation workshop (25-28 November 2018) of 3 days of discussion in Kolkata, followed by a 2 day plenary conference (29-30 November 2018) on ‘the State of the Global Protection System for Refugees and Migrants’ to be held in Kolkata. The event is organised in collaboration with the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS), Rabindra Bharati University, Presidency University, Jadavpur University and West Bengal State University.

The research and orientation workshop will host six working groups on the following themes

A. Global Compact on Migration: Promises and Paradoxes and the Need for New Global, Regional and National Responses (with special references to Asia)
Coordinators: Dr Nasreen Chowdhory  & Professor Ranabir Samaddar

B. Racialisation of Migration : Race, Religion, Gender, and Other Faultlines in Forced Migration
Coordinator: Professor Paula Banerjee

C. Power and Responsibility in the Global Protection System in the Context of Mixed and Massive Population Flows; The Need to redefine the "Responsibility to Protect"
Coordinator: Professor Shibashis Chatterjee

D. Refugee and Immigrant Economies: Privatisation of Care and Protection
Coordinators: Professor Ranabir Samaddar & Professor Samita Sen

E. Statelessness, International Conventions and the Need for New Initiatives
Coordinator: Professor Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhary

F. Migrants and Movements Across Asia: Common Features with the European Scenario
Coordinator: Dr Anita Sengupta & Professor Meghna Guhathakurta

Participants in the workshop have been selected from among applicants and experts from the South Asia as well as other parts of the globe. Contributions of participants will include research paper, or short documentary (15 minute), or photo exhibit, or documentation, or any such knowledge based end product. The workshop will deliberate in details these six issues that will then form the basis of the international conference to follow on 29 and 30 November 2018. The basic theme will be the challenges to the protection system and the new protection issues.

The international conference will have panels on wide ranging themes including the Global Compact on Migration, faultlines of the protection regime and issues of gender, race, and immigrant economies. It will also have panels focused on the migration experience of specific regions like Turkey and Afghanistan. Around 30 invited international speakers of global renown will address key contemporary concerns on migration at the conference.

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