Decolonizing Refugee Governance

As political instability around the world displaces larger and larger numbers of people, the international community struggles to institute an adequate and equitable arrangement to meet its obligations to protect refugees; repatriation is more often than not impossible, refugees face deplorable conditions in camps as well as inadequate paths to local integration and resettlement, and burden sharing amongst states is highly inequitable.

In 2020, 86% of the world’s 25.6 million refugees were hosted by low and middle income countries.  An increasing number of critical scholars are bringing a decolonial lens to the analysis of these failures, tracing the root causes to the colonial origins of international refugee legal frameworks.

As Antony Anghie writes in his seminal book Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law, international law cannot be separated from the European colonial project that it was created to support, justify, and prolong. These analyses connect the historical use of international refugee law as an instrument of racial discrimination, cultural subordination, and economic exploitation to the unequal burden-sharing, inadequate standards of protection, and racial undertones of today’s international refugee governance regime.This discussion will trace the international refugee governance regime from the racism and colonialism embedded in its epistemology to the ideological fallacies of the mainstream discourse on reforming the regime, ultimately arriving at the question: what would it mean to decolonize refugee governance? And how do we get there?

April 7, 2022 – 10:00am EST



E. Tendayi Achiume is UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and Professor and Alicia Miñana Chair in Law at the UCLA Law School
Gaim Kibreab is Professor of Refugee Studies at the London South Bank University where he directs the program in Refugee Studies
Sedef Arat-Koc is Associate Professor of Politics at Ryerson University in Toronto
T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility


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