Lecture 7 (spring semester): Displacement, asylum seekers, refugees.

Welcome to lecture 6 on kinds, causes and responses to forced and coerced displacement

In this lecture we will discuss:

  • Definitions: ‘forced migration’ ‘refugees,’ ‘asylum seekers,’ ‘internally displaced persons’.
  • Asylum seekers & refugees,  integration and exclusion (using the example of the UK).
  • Government, Media & popular Discourses on asylum/refugees.
  • Relationship between “globalisation” and forced migration/refugees?

Definition of Refugees

Refugee: a person residing outside his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return because of:

“a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” (UNHCR 1951) 

and that they are unable to seek state protection (UNHCR 1967).

In order to claim refugee status, people must prove this

The 1951/1967 United Nations Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees

owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951UNHCR & The UN Refugee Convention 1951 = response to genocide of Jewish diaspora

more than 350 million and together they constitute 5–6% of the world’s population

Definitions: Asylum Seekers & Forced Migrants, Internally Displaced Persons

Asylum seekers

An asylum seeker is someone seeking asylum whose claim to be a refugee has not yet been officially processed

Under the 1951 Convention everybody has the right to claim asylum. No such thing as an ‘illegal asylum seeker’.

Forced migrants

‘a general term that refers to the movements of refugees and internally displaced people (those displaced by conflicts) as well as people displaced by natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine, or development projects

Coerced migrants

Falling short of actual force but still compelling people to migrate. For example, famine, economic depression, environmental damage, exclusive/discriminatory law/practice (making it difficult for groups to settle or remain) are some of the conditions that compel people to migrate

Internally Displaced Persons

  •  ‘persons who have been forced to flee their homes suddenly or unexpectedly in large numbers, as a result of armed conflict, internal strife, systematic violations of human rights or natural or man-made disasters, and who are within the territory of their own country’ (UN 1992)
  • Sometimes referred to as ‘internal refugees’, these people are in similar need of protection and assistance as refugees but do not have the same legal and institutional support as those who have crossed an international border.

Types of Forced Migration

Conflict-Induced Displacement

People who flee their homes due to armed conflict, generalized violence, persecution on the grounds of nationality, race, religion, political opinion or social group

Development-Induced Displacement

Compelled to move because of policies implemented to enhance ‘development’ (e.g. Large-scale infrastructure projects like dams, roads, airports, ports, mining, deforestation)

Disaster-Induced Displacement

Displaced as a result of natural disasters, environmental change (e.g. Deforestation, desertification, global warming), and  human-made disasters (industrial accidents, radioactivity)  Source: Forced Migration Online

Immigration Concepts: settlement

  • Assimilation – immigrants adapt or ‘assimilate’ into the host society while institutions and the ‘host’ population are not expected to change significantly
  • Segregation -when migrants’ cultural roots and identities are maintained, but there is little interaction with the host community
  • Marginalization -migrants lose their sense of identity and also remain socially excluded from wider society
  • Integration – migrants participate in wider society while maintaining their cultural roots and identities. Berry (1992)

Integration & Assimilation

  • Integration describes a two-way process requiring adaptation by migrants but also by ‘host’ communities and institutions (Castles et al. 2002: 133; Modood 2007: 48).
  • Van Hear (1998: 55): the concept of integration denotes a greater degree of choice on behalf of the migrants rather than them being forced to assimilate.
  • Assimilation: One way process of adaptation: Give up distinctive linguistic, cultural or social characteristics

Multiculturalism and Interculturalism

  • Multiculturalism: Immigrants should be able to participate as equals in all spheres of society without being expected to give up their own culture, religion and language
  • Complex multiculturalism: The Equality Act (2010), puts the claims of the religion and belief on the same level as race, ethnicity and nationality, as well as disability, sexuality, gender, age,
  • Interculturalism emphasises interaction and participation of citizens in a common society, rather than cultural differences and different cultures existing next to each other without necessarily much contact or participative interaction. Interculturalism is therefore equivalent to mutual integration. While multiculturalism boils down to celebrating difference, interculturalism is about understanding each other’s cultures, sharing them and finding common ground on which people can become more integrated. (NewStart Magazine 7 June 2006, cited in Meer & Modood, 2011, 188)

Scale and location of refugee and IDP migration


65.3 million people were forcibly displaced persons in 2015

Total = record high

12.4 million newly displaced by conflict

SOURCE: Report by the UN’s High Commission for Refugees (December 2015)

21.3 million refugees; half of these children; 3.2 million asylum seekers

40.8 million internally displaced people


Half from three countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia;

Other major countries of origin;

Colombians, Congolese, Iraqis, Nigerians, Sudanese, South Sudanese, and Yemenis.

Developing countries host 86% of the world’s refugees

Top 6 hosting countries

  1. Turkey (2.5 million)
  2. Pakistan (1.6 million)
  3. Lebanon (1.1 million)
  4. Islamic Rep. of Iran (979,400)
  5. Ethiopia (736,100)
  6. Jordan (664,100)

Location of asylum applications

  • Largest asylum applications; Germany 441,900
  • US (172,700), Sweden(156,400),Russian Federation (152,500)
  • 201,400 refugees returned to their country of origin

Push factors for asylum seekers & refugees

  • Repression and/or discrimination of minorities
  • Ethnic conflict and human rights abuse
  • Civil War
  • Numbers of internally displaced people relative to total population
  • Poverty
  • Position on the Human Development Index (HDI)
  • Life Expectancy
  • Population density
  • Adult illiteracy rate
  • Environmental disasters

Source: Castles et al., 2003

Pull factors for asylum seekers & refugees

  • Peace & public order, via democratic institutions & rule of law
  • Strong economies & chance for reasonable living standards
  • Strong welfare and health systems
  • Geographic proximity
  • Cultural affinity, inc. language
  • Presence of people from same culture/ethnicity
  • Ability to draw upon social and cultural capital

Pull factors can be actual or perceived

Asylum seekers/refugees may be pushed, but may still make choices based on pull factors (Robinson, 2002)

Case study 1. British refugee policy: A tradition of tolerance?


Restricting asylum migration

British asylum policy designed to achieve

  • Deterence
  • Prevention
  • Detention
  • Deportation

From Cold War tolerance to postcolonial intolerance

Political/Media Discourse

  • 1950s-1980s: Cold War: West offers refuge from Communist oppression while actual  refugee numbers low
  • 1985+ Politicians begin to legislate to restrict asylum immigration and settlement as refuge number increase
  • Popular media (e.g., Daily Mail) opposed to/campaigns against asylum seekers

negative language repeatedly used to describe asylum seekers and refugees in the popular press:

scrounger, sponger, fraudster, robbing the system’, ‘burden/strain on resources’, ‘illegal working, cheap labour, cash in hand, black economy’, criminal (unspecified or non-violent), ‘criminal violent’, ‘arrested, jailed, guilty’, ‘mob, horde, riot, rampage, disorder’, ‘a threat, a worry, to be feared (terror, but not terrorism). ICAR, 2004, 35

  • political discourse: 1985+

Politicians begin to use terms like ‘disguised economic migrants’, and ‘bogus’ asylum seeker as opposed to ‘genuine refugees’; as ‘illegal’ as opposed to legal; Assumes refugee migration is political not economic

Effects of anti-asylum political discourse

  1. Xenophobia. Government public hostility to asylum seekers simply legitimates xenophobic sentiments. It encourages anti-asylum mobilisation and provides the public with cues for seeing problems in a distorted and exaggerated way’. Paul Statham 2003
  2. Criminalisation. Shift from protecting refugees to criminalising asylum migration. Governments increasingly offer protection against ‘traffickers/smugglers’ instead of refuge and settlement
  3. Stagnation. People are stuck in camps. Spontaneous arrivals represented and treated as ‘queue jumpers’ (they are instead required to wait in camps for selection, which may take many years or just not eventuate).
  4. Danger. Increasingly hazardous journeys. 3,740 lives had been lost by Oct 25, 2016 in the Mediterranean, just short of the 3,771 reported for the whole of 2015 (UNHCR, 2016)
  5. Marginalisation. Destitution for rejected asyslum seekers and asylum applicants in country.



  • 20th century has been referred to as the ‘age of the refugee’ (Steiner 1970)
  • ‘Since the end of the Cold War, there has been an escalation in the number armed conflicts around the world … There has been a large increase in the number of refugees during this period as displacement has increasingly become a strategic tactic often used by all sides in the conflict’ (Forced Migration Online)
  • Post WWII: Age of global rights norms, instruments, institutions: refuge and protection as a fundamental human right

Refugees: Globalization’s “waste” products

Displaced persons as ‘waste products of globalization’ (Zygmunt Bauman, 2004)

Tribal wars, massacres, conflict between proliferating ‘guerrilla armies’ absorb and annihilate the ‘population surplus’ (the young, unemployable at home and without prospects)

‘Perhaps the sole thriving industry of the ‘developing countries’ is the mass production of refugees the ever more prolific products of that industry which the British  Prime Minister proposes to unload ‘near their home countries’, in permanently temporary camps … (dubbed ‘safe havens’) … The aim is to keep ‘local’ problems local (2004: 73)

‘The numbers of homeless and stateless victims of globalization grow too fast for the designation and construction of camps to keep up’ (2004: 75)

Refugees & Globalisation concepts

Networks: smuggling networks

Flows; increasing flows of displaced people

World systems theory: related to inequality

Risk: perceived as a risk to welfare, economy, culture, identity & belonging, law & order, sovereignty; risk for refugees (hardship, death, destitution, detention)

Borders: related to ‘debordering’ and ‘rebordering’

Scapes; ideoscapes, media scapes via IT

Interconnectedness; world of conflict & poverty migrates, modern forms of transport

Globalism: norms, institutions, structures


  • Forced Migration Online ‘What is Forced Migration?’, Available at: http://www.forcedmigration.org/about/whatisfm
  • Castles S., et al., (2003) States of Cnflict: Causes and Patterns of Forced Migration to the EU and Policy Responses, London, IPPR
  • Sales, R. (2002). “The deserving and the undeserving? Refugees, asylum seekers and welfare in Britain.” Critical Social Policy 22(3), pp. 456-478.
  • Anderson, Claire, Us and Them:
  • Bloch, A. and L. Schuster. 2002. Asylum and Welfare: contemporary debates. Critical Social Policy. 22(3), pp.393-414.
  • Bloch. A. (2002) The Migration and Settlement of Refugees in Britain. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Bauman, Z. (2004) Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts, Oxford: Polity Press.
  • Cohen, R. and Kennedy, P. (2007) Global Sociology, 2nd edition, Basingstoke: Macmillan, Ch. 10, pp.249-252
  • Burnett, J. et al. (2010) State Sponsored Cruelty: Children in Immigration Detention. London: Medical Justice
  • Castles, S. et al. (2002) Integration: Mapping the Field. Home Office Online Report 29/03. London: Home Office
  • Jordan, B. and Duvell, F. 2003. Migration: The Boundaries of Equality and Justice. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Castles, S. and Miller, M. 2003. The Age of Migration: International Movements in the Modern World. 3rd Edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Da Lomba, S. (2010) Legal Status and Refugee Integration: a UK Perspective, Journal of Refugee Studies, 23 (4): 415-436.
  • Darling, J. 2009. ‘Becoming bare life: asylum, hospitality, and the politics
  • of encampment’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 27, 649-665.
  • Dwyer, P. and D. Brown (2005) Meeting Basic Needs? Forced Migrants and Welfare. Social Policy & Society. 4 (4), pp. 269-380.
  • Dwyer, P. and Brown, D. (2008). “Accommodating ‘others’? Housing dispersed, forced migrants in the UK.” Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 30(3),pp. 203-218.
  • Knepper, P. 2007. British Jews and the racialisation of crime in the age of empire. British Journal of Criminology. 47, pp. 61-79. O’Neill, M. (2010) Asylum, Migration and Community. Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Spencer, S. (2011) The Migration Debate. Bristol: Policy Press
  • Walters, W. 2004. Secure borders, safe haven, domopolitics. Citizenship Studies. 8(3), 237-60.

Author: shabbycheek

Lecturer and researcher in intersectional cultural studies, historical sociology, American and migration studies. Working in China on America, British, Australian and Chinese social justice issues using Feminist materialist, post-Marxist (Gramscian), Critical Race Studies and post-colonial perspectives.

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