On Sept. 19, the United Nations will hold its first-ever high-level summit meeting on refugees and migrants, which, given a staggering 65 million people now on the move, may rank as the organization’s most pressing global issue for years to come. With this conference in mind, PassBlue is introducing a series of book notes focused on timely issues, written by Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, and a popular host of its interviews with authors.
Here is her first report:
As refugee and forced migrations studies have grown, a good place to begin is with background reading to become familiar with expert evaluations. The Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, edited by Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Gil Loescher, Katy Long and Nando Sigona, is an invaluable source not only for those who are new to this issue but also for those in the field who want to refresh their knowledge and experience while revisiting current debates. The book covers the politics and geography of the refugee experience, settlement and resettlement, including accounts of specific groups from the Horn of Africa to the cases of the Palestinians and Syria.
“UNHCR: The Politics and Practice of Refugee Protection Into the 21st Century,” by Alexander Betts, Gil Loescher and James Milner, experts in the field, is one of the few books tracing the relationship among national interests, global politics and the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The authors outline how the changing nature of conflict and displacement poses new challenges for the UNHCR, and looks at the fundamental tension between the UN’s human-rights agenda of protecting refugees fleeing conflict and persecution, and the security, political and economic interests of states around the world.
The Law of Peoples: with “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited” revised edition, by John Rawls. The Law of Peoples extends the idea of a social contract to a global “society of peoples” and lays out the general principles that can and should be accepted by both liberal and nonliberal societies as standards for behavior toward one another. In particular, it draws a crucial distinction between basic human rights and the rights of each citizen of a liberal constitutional democracy. It explores the terms under which such a society may appropriately wage war against an “outlaw society,” and discusses the moral grounds for rendering assistance to nonliberal societies burdened by unfavorable political and economic conditions.
As the current refugee crisis is beginning to grow, virtually no books have been published by the refugees themselves telling their still-unfinished stories of migration and efforts to begin life anew. Even so, today’s refugees and their experiences are not that dissimilar from those of the past. Their ordeals are universally shared.
“City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp,” by Ben Rawlence, tells the story from Kenya. In Kenya, 60 miles west of the Somali border, sits the largest refugee camp in the world: Dadaab. There, on a flat, red plain surrounded by desert and thorn trees, the mud-and-tent metropolis is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of them Somali. The camp, managed by the UNHCR, lacks proper sanitation and housing. It functions on an economy that helps people with money and devastates those without it. And its resettlement program consists of a lottery that allows winners to be sent abroad, a process that leaves many in despair. After spending more than six years in the region, the author uses the stories of nine residents to illuminate the wider political and social forces that keep roughly half a million people in the camp from finding their way out. UNHCR lists 331,000 registered refugees in Dadaab, but Rawlence estimates about half a million people live there.
“The Suitcase: Refugee Voices from Bosnia and Croatia,” edited by Julie A. Mertus, Jasmina Tesanovic, Habiba Metikos and Rada Boric, with a foreword by Cornel West, is a collection of memoirs that provides a stirring and disturbing picture of what reality is all about for people who fled the disasters of Bosnia and Croatia. These stories are predominantly, but not exclusively, written by Bosnian Muslims who left Bosnia between the spring of 1992 and late 1995. It contains some 75 stories of the people who left, mostly women and children, as they flee war-zone conditions, long for home, settle into life as refugees or displaced persons and attempt to make a new life away from everything they had known. The book serves as excellent primary source material for research on conditions in the former Yugoslavia or on refugees throughout the world. Concluding essays by the editors discuss the relief needs of women, specifically Muslim refugees; conditions afflicting all refugees, regardless of origin or ethnic identity; and the duration of the refugee crisis in the former Yugoslavia.
“The Lost Boys of Sudan: An American Story of the Refugee Experience,” by Mark Bixler, shows what the refugee experience is like for tribal, traditional and traumatized people as they crash into modern America. While quite a few books have been written on the Sudanese in the United States, Bixler’s connects personal stories to history, foreign policy and public policy.
“Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age” is written by Jacqueline Bhabha, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, director of research at Harvard’s Francois Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights and the Jeremiah Smith Jr. Lecturer at Harvard Law School. This book provides a comprehensive account of the widespread but neglected global phenomenon of child migration and child trafficking, exploring the complex challenges facing children and adolescents who move to join their families, those who are moved to be exploited and those who move simply to survive. It looks at the often-insurmountable obstacles we place in the paths of adolescents fleeing war, exploitation or destitution; the contradictory elements in our approach to international adoption; and the limited support we give to young people brutalized as child soldiers. Part history, part in-depth legal and political analysis, this powerful book challenges the prevailing wisdom that widespread protection failures are caused by our lack of awareness of the problems these children face. It argues instead that our societies have a deep-seated ambivalence to migrant children — one we need to address head-on.
Books about successful integration offer some hope. “Pax Ethnica: Where and How Diversity Succeeds,” is written by Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac. In a world replete with stories of sectarian violence, we are often left wondering: are there places where people of different ethnicities, especially with significant Muslim minorities, live in peace? If so, why haven’t we heard more about them and what explains their success? To answer these questions, Meyer and Brysac undertook a two-year exploration of oases of civility around the world, places notable for minimal violence, rising life expectancy, high literacy and pragmatic compromises on cultural rights. Through scores of interviews, they document ways and means that have proven successful in defusing ethnic tensions.
“Integration Nation: Immigrants, Refugees and America at Its Best,” by Susan E. Eaton. As immigration policy continues to be a polarizing issue, this book shines a much-needed light on the American towns and cities that thrive when immigrants and refugees are thoughtfully integrated into their fold. In Eaton’s enthralling journalism, we hear the voices of immigrant families, see the cruel folly of anti-immigrant hysteria and learn in a concrete way that the survival of migrant communities is connected to the survival of all of us.