Refugees Adrift? Responses to Crises in the MENA and Asia

This essay series explores the human costs and policy challenges associated with the displacement crises in the Mediterranean and Andaman Seas.

In 2014 the UNHCR reported that the number of people forced to flee their homes had exceeded 50 million for the first time since World War Two, and that the exponential increase in the number of those forcibly displaced had already stretched aid organisations and host countries nearly to the breaking point. 

Since the release of that UNHCR report, the worldwide crisis of displacement has, if anything, worsened. The two concurrent crises unfolding in the Mediterranean and the Andaman Seas are tragic examples of this grim reality.

The circumstances that have driven the many thousands who have risked or lost their lives making these perilous journeys cry out for greater awareness and deeper understanding. Of equal importance is critical examination of the mindsets, tools, and methods that have guided the responses to the crises -- the impact such measures appear to have had and the lessons that might be drawn from them. 

What myths or misconceptions have pervaded discussions and/or responses to these emergencies? And how have such misunderstandings impeded or distorted the response to them? How, and how effectively have individual countries dealt with the flow of new arrivals? In what manner, and to what effect have the European Union and ASEAN addressed these crises? And, finally, what types of constraints or capacity deficiencies have hampered the responses to them?

Mar 08, 2016
What if the E.U. Had a Refugee Policy? 
Joanne van Selm
This essay explores how, if the European Union had a more complete refugee policy—one that covers all aspects of refugee arrival, reception, and protection—the Syria crisis might have been mitigated, if not averted. The essay focuses specifically on the desirability and advantages of resettlement (among other mooted policies) as a vital protection tool.

Mar 10, 2016
The Rohingyas Refugee Crisis: A Regional and International Issue?
Antonietta Pagano
One of the biggest differences between the Rohingya refugee crisis and the refugee emergency in the Mediterranean is that in the former case, none of the involved states is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, nor its 1967 Protocol. Furthermore, the lack of a formal regional asylum framework has made the Rohingyas emergency that much more acute—and tragic.

Mar 15, 2016
Humanitarianism in Highly Religious Contexts: Responding to Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Rupen Das
This essay discusses the potential value of and impediments to the provision of assistance to refugees by local religious institutions. It explores this issue by focusing on Lebanon, highlighting the important contribution of a small NGO, the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD), in mentoring and training pastors and many of the key local church leadership in how to respond to the humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees.

Mar 17, 2016 
The Syrian Refugee Crisis and Lebanon’s Endemic Deadlocks: Trading Reform for Resilience
Carmen Geha
The huge influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon has placed an enormous strain on the country’s already fragile economy, society and politics. In absorbing this massive external shock, Lebanon has thus far displayed extraordinary community resilience. In that sense, Lebanese communities have actually something to teach the world about welcoming refugees and sharing limited resources despite social, political, and economic grievances caused by the crisis. But international donors’ promotion of the narrative of Lebanon’s resilience has come at a cost, namely the further delay of structural and political reforms that are of critical importance to the country’s future.

Mar 22, 2016 
Between Security and Protection: The E.U.'s Refugee and Migration Policy Crisis
Chiara Cancellario
Most scholars and NGOs argue that the measures adopted by the European Union to tackle illegal migration and smuggling, characterized by the strengthening of border security, are the principal causes of the ongoing refugee and migrant crisis. This essay will examine the EU's refugee and migration policy crisis by providing an overview of the most recent policy responses proposed by the European institutions and by highlighting the implications of Member States’ tendency to maintain sovereignty on migration policies.

The creation of the Schengen area has modified the political geography of migration with important implications on for countries around the world. On one hand, the Schengen area established the first supranational border in the history of Europe; on the other hand, it obliged a small group of countries to guard the new border and to manage the refugee flows. In this context, Italy has a key role to play, but the policies that have been implemented in Italy and other E.U nations since the ’80s have revealed a lack of long-term vision. This is occurring in a context characterized by the absence of an E.U. migration policy and the selfish attitude shown by some non-Mediterranean European countries.

Mar 31, 2016
Where History and Humanitarianism Collide: The Bay of Bengal “Migrant” Crisis 
Moe Thuzar
This essay examines the 2015 Bay of Bengal migrant crisis in Asia from three broad perspectives: 1) the historically entrenched views towards the Rohingyas in Myanmar, which are now conflated with religion and which have exacerbated the refugee situation; 2) the lack of humanitarian response by governments for the plight of the displaced; and 3) the challenges of using regional mechanisms to tackle the issue.

Apr 05, 2016 
European Identity and the Plight of Syrian Refugees
Dora Kostakopoulou
The actions of E.U. member states during the last 12 months with respect to the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ reveal their betrayal of the commitments articulated in the 1973 Declaration of European Identity.


No European government has made any substantial reference to the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ principle (R2P) during the current migrant crisis. This is remarkable since the crisis, which has gone on for the past five years, is mainly due to displacement of people fleeing from mass atrocities and crimes. At the same time, several European governments are using the word ‘protection’ with reference to European citizens and borders to justify the need of a ‘fortress Europe’. The world ‘protection’ has probably never been more popular in post-cold war Europe. At the same time, the word seems to have lost its association with R2P since the principle’s inception.

Apr 12, 2016 
Livin’ on the Edge: Irregular Migration in Egypt 
Jan Claudius Völkel
Since the mid-2000s, Egypt has developed into a main transit country for irregular migrants, either to Libya or to Israel. Now, as the traditional paths have largely been closed, many migrants and refugees are blocked in Cairo and along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. Boarding a boat towards Europe is for many the only option to escape negligence, detention and abuse.

April 13, 2016
Migration, Conflict and Security in the Post-2011 Landscape
Tamirace Fakhoury
This essay suggests lines of inquiry for a research agenda on why migration has arisen both as a consequence and a driver of conflict in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The essay sheds light on conflict-induced migration flows and their determinants in the post-2011 landscape; highlights how displacement has become both as a consequence and as a driver of new types of conflict and vulnerability; shows how migration flows and patterns have become closely intertwined with the construction of security and power; and raises the question of whether or not the post-2011 migrant crises have provided opportunities for political reform.

April 14, 2016
The Syrian Refugee Emergency: Implications for State Security and the International Humanitarian System
Jeff Crisp
This essay depicts the Syrian refugee crisis as a symptom of the disorder which currently exists in the international system, describes the distinctive characteristics of the Syrian exodus, discusses the security implications of the crisis, and proposes four forms of international cooperation to safeguard the welfare of Syria’s refugees and to prevent the emergency from generating further upheaval in the Middle East.

Apr 19, 2016 
"Nope, nope, nope": Australia's Response to the Refugees Crises in the Andaman Sea and in the Mediterranean in 2015 
Klaus Neumann
Australia has long prided itself on being one of the world’s premier destinations for refugees who have been identified by the U.N.H.C.R. and other refugee agencies as being in need of permanent resettlement. Australia was certainly justified in making this claim in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In more recent years, however, the comparative size of Australia’s humanitarian program has declined in relation both to the country’s overall migrant intake and to Australia’s population.

Apr 21, 2016
Asian Boat People and the Challenges of Migration Governance: A Source Country Perspective
Syeda Rozana Rashid and ASM Ali Ashraf
To what extent does the boat migration phenomenon demonstrate the limits of migration governance? The purpose of this essay is to address this question by focusing on Bangladesh as a source country. Despite the growing contribution of foreign remittances to the national economy, establishing a fairer migration regime has emerged as a challenging task for Bangladesh. An analysis of the boat migration phenomenon provides an opportunity to investigate the nature of the problem and its underlying causes.

Apr 26, 2016
Holy Crossings: Making Desirable Refugees for Resettlement from Turkey
Shoshana Fine
The focus of this essay is on the practice of the Christianisation of refugees in Turkey. The essay shows that the politics of conversion can be interpreted as part of a struggle to be mobile and to increase resettlement prospects to the United States, the main country of resettlement for refugees in Turkey.

May 05, 2016 
Positions of Responsibility: The Search for Solutions to Irregular Migration in Southeast Asia
Alistair D. B. Cook
The initial reaction by Southeast Asian governments to the flow of migrants through the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea reflected the dominant perceptions of migrants as posing a threat to state security and stability. The reaction also highlighted their reliance on bilateral or mini-lateral attempts to address the situation, rather than system-wide responses that engage all important stakeholders. The policies initiated by governments in the region were in many ways strikingly similar to those put into effect in the late 1970s in response to the so-called Indochinese exodus. Revisiting the circumstances under which this solution was attained could provide valuable lessons regarding how to develop a humane and sustainable solution to the root causes of irregular migration that recently dominated the news.

May 31, 2016 
Protracted Refugee Displacement in the Middle East: Making Home in Limbo? 
Anita Fabos and Cathrine Brun 
This essay examines a key policy assumption behind the concept Protracted Refugee Situations—the notion that the refugee predicament, “limbo,” can only be resolved through going Home as defined within a nation-state framework. The authors’ proposal—that refugees can make home without necessarily going home—offers an alternative, refugee-centered perspective of home as a “constellation” of practices, strategies, and ideas.

June 02, 2016
Rohingya Refugees in Aceh, Indonesia: Hostile Hospitality
Antje Missbach
This essay investigates what became of the many hundreds of Rohingya who were rescued from their rickety boats in the Andaman Sea in May 2015 and brought to shore in Aceh, Indonesia. It discusses the spontaneous acts of hospitality that initially greeted their arrival, the subsequent escapes by some from the camps in which they were accommodated, and the struggle by local officials and NGOs to find mid-term solutions for their care.

Jul 21, 2016
Thinking beyond “Crisis”: Population Displacement and State Building in the Middle East
Giulia El Dardiry
War and displacement—for those who are caught up in them—are always a tragedy, one that they carry with and within them far beyond the limited attention spans of international media and scholars. However, not every tragedy becomes a crisis. This essay discusses the intellectual, policy, and human consequences of considering the current displacements in the Middle East a “crisis.”

Jul 28, 2016
After the Boats: Refugee Reception and the Production of Irregularity in Italy’s Migration Crisis
Simon McMahon
This essay discusses the reception, protection and integration of refugees and migrants in Italy, where there has been widespread entry of people into positions of precariousness and vulnerability, living in informal settlements, often without humanitarian protection or residence permits. It is a situation that highlights the longer-term implications of the crisis and the shortcomings of the responses that have so far been put in place.

Oct 12, 2016
The Rohingya and Refoulement in South East Asia
Nikolas Feith Tan
This essay considers three issues triggered by the pushbacks of boats carrying Rohingya and Bangladeshi asylum seekers and migrants in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal in May 2015. Firstly, whether the actions of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia amounted to refoulement. Second, whether these states are bound by the non-refoulement norm. Finally, whether there exists a customary norm of non-refoulement in Southeast Asia.

Oct 27, 2016
Against Ontologies of Hospitality. About Syrian Refugeehood in Northern Lebanon
Estella Carpi
This essay explores the relationship between Syrian refugees and local Lebanese. In particular, it discusses the dominance of the discourse of ‘hospitality’ in the international media depiction of this relationship and in the humanitarian response informed by it. As this essay will show, these tendencies have resulted in the ‘hospitality’ discourse informing and reinforcing the international response to the Syrian refugee influx into and presence in Lebanon.

Nov 29, 2016
Are Syrian Men Vulnerable Too? Gendering The Syria Refugee Response
Lewis Turner
This essay examines the place of Syrian men in the refugee response, with a focus on the situation in Jordan. It questions the prevailing understandings of vulnerability, and outlines how the assumption that women and children are ‘the most vulnerable’ affects the distribution of aid and services. The essay demonstrates that, contrary to the perceptions of many in the humanitarian sector, work with refugee men is not only necessary, but can be extremely successful. Syrian men can be vulnerable too.

Dec 06, 2016
Access to Legal Residency for Refugees in the Middle East: Bureaucracy, Deterrence, and Prolonged Impermanence
Kelsey P. Norman
The more than four million refugees presently residing in Middle East and North Africa host states often have difficulty accessing residency due to several factors, including bureaucratic barriers, prohibitive application costs, and policies designed to intentionally exclude them from the national residence system. This essay explores how states such as Egypt only issue permits for very limited periods of time, states such as Turkey make residency contingent upon remaining in one isolated geographic region, and states such as Lebanon make the process so expensive and burdensome that refugees are effectively forced to remain in an irregular status. While sometimes these barriers only have mild implications because residency permits are not frequently checked by host state authorities, in many cases the consequences can be dire.

Dec 19, 2016
From Conflict-insensitive to Conflict-driven Aid: Responding to the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon
Lama Mourad
In part due to a broader move from an emergency to development-based approach and due to pressure from central Lebanese government authorities, the humanitarian effort has now been coupled, since mid-2014, with one that takes into greater account the needs of local host communities alongside those of refugees. This traces the way in which tensions between hosts and refugees have become increasingly central to the development and execution of aid projects aimed at community-level support. The author argues that this has important consequences that may actually incentivize the tensions it aims to alleviate.

Dec 21, 2016
The Displaced as Actors in Syrian Politics
Ali Nehme Hamdan
For the Assad regime in Damascus, displacement has become an essential tactic in shaping the terms of its encounter with dissent, alongside violence and detention. At the same time, the process of displacement has not unfolded in a coherent or predictable manner. Rather, displacement in the Syrian conflict is a product of choices, chief among them the regime’s choice to erase, rather than accommodate, political Opposition in Syria. It is also the result of how the Opposition responds to these challenges. This essay explores how Opposition networks have adapted pragmatically to displacement and exile. Far from accepting the terms of the conflict passively, Syria’s diverse opposition continues to mobilize in the face of ongoing state oppression.

Jan 10, 2017
Burden or Boon? Turkey’s Tactical Treatment of the Syrian Refugee Crisis
Lisel Hintz and Caroline Feehan
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) approaches the question of refugees much differently than its European counterparts. The latter's pushing back against burden-sharing measures has led to what can be described as burden-shifting. In contrast, the AKP's view of Syrian refugees in Turkey is that they are more of a boon than a burden. This essay explores the thinking and the tactics behind Turkey's approach to dealing with the Syrian refugees challenge.

Feb 14, 2017
Bearing Witness to the Refugee Crisis: Western Audiences and Jordanian Humanitarian Workers
Rawan Arar
This essay is not about the Syrians who have fled their homes or those who are unable to leave despite the barrel bombs. Nor is it about Syrian refugees who are caught in limbo in neighboring countries, those that took perilous journeys to Europe by boat, or those who face rejection in the “land(s) of the free.” Instead, this essay is about the witnesses — those closest to Syrian refugees and those farthest away. It juxtaposes images produced for consumption by Western audiences with reflections of Jordanian humanitarian aid workers.

April 18, 2017
Morocco's Triple Role in the Euro-African Migration System
Stylianos Kostas
This essay discusses Morocco's changing role within the Euro-African migration system — that of a source, transit, and final destination country. It briefly addresses the responsibilities and responses of Moroccan authorities in dealing with the phenomenon of irregular migration, in particular as it relates to Morocco's role as a destination country.

Jul 20, 2017
Reverse Moralism and the Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis
Filippo Dionigi
Non-refoulement is a well-recognized principle of customary international law that forbids the forced deportation of refugees and asylum seekers to their country of origin. This essay discusses the increasingly common practice of refoulement in Jordan and the circumstances in which this development is taking place.

Sep 05, 2017
Regional Cooperation on Refugee Protection: The Unanswered Questions
Madeline Gleeson
With record numbers of people displaced around the world, the issue of how regions might cooperate to manage forced migration, and respond to the needs of people on the move, has become more relevant than ever. In the Asia-Pacific, the need for some form of cooperation became particularly pressing during the Andaman Sea “crisis” of May 2015. However, despite a series of multilateral meetings in the wake of that period, it is not clear whether any meaningful progress towards this goal eventuated. As States in the region continue to grapple with the need for better coordination in their responses to displacement, this essay raises some of the lesser explored and as yet unanswered questions about whether and how regional cooperation on refugee protection might develop in this part of the world.

This essay examines the humanitarian negotiation of protection in the Syrian refugee response. Focusing on the case of Lebanon, the essay presents three examples of how the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has negotiated refugee protection: by avoiding the refugee label, by establishing the contested notion of “protection space,” and by suspending refugee registration at the request of the Lebanese government.
In recent decades, Indonesia has become an important transit point for asylum-seekers. Afghans account for half of the number of refugees and asylum-seekers in Indonesia. Over the years, they, like others fleeing their homes due to conflict — from Iraq, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan — have found themselves stuck in Indonesia due to the restrictive policies in Australia, where they had hoped to obtain asylum. This article discusses the status of Afghan refugees and asylum-seekers in Indonesia, with a focus on the Hazaras and the challenges they face.