Shelters and refugees

Reception: January 29, 2020

Acceptance: February 27, 2020

Wn the last decade we have witnessed unprecedented events in various parts of the world around the forced displacement of people, many of whom would have to access protection mechanisms in the countries they reach. Despite the existence of international treaties and agreements aimed at preserving people's lives, guaranteeing their access to rights, as well as their insertion and integration in host communities, what we have seen is a retreat in the policies and actions of the States in the face of the arrival of people seeking protection.

In this way, to the scandalous situation in humanitarian terms (both due to the conditions of expulsion and transit) have been added national positions that have transformed the phenomenon into a critical situation on an international scale. In an extremely interesting way, what we see in countries such as Greece, Germany, Italy, France, Turkey, has similar expressions both in the southern cone of the American continent (Argentina, Chile, Peru) and in the north (Canada, United States, Mexico).

In this context, the crises that we are seeing in the Mediterranean, on the northern and southern border of Mexico or in South America, derived from the massive mobilizations of people fleeing their countries, force us to reflect on the role that the States in the face of the arrival and / or transit of displaced persons and refugees, in the face of what appears to be a regressive global policy, based on the externalization of borders, restriction and selectivity.

What are the factors that help to understand the change and / or overlap between the flow of labor migrants and displaced persons / refugees?

Currently, many population movements are derived from unsustainable situations in the places of origin or habitual residence, caused by a mixture of political, economic, social and environmental factors, as well as by the interaction between these factors: development megaprojects, environmental disasters, famines, climate change, etc. In the Latin American subcontinent and the Caribbean, people are also fleeing insecurity and generalized violence linked to the expansion of criminal markets: extortion systems and territorial power of gangs and criminal organizations, strong involvement of organized crime in public institutions , gender violence and police violence against young people. During the post-cold war period, the expulsion factors thus seem to multiply; People are fleeing not only from political violence or armed conflicts by the power of the State, but above all from the “new wars against the poor” (Gledhill, 2015): from the bloody struggles for the control of natural resources and legal and illegal markets. In this sense, the end of developmentalism in Latin America has given way to a capitalism of dispossession (Harvey, 2004) that displaces large masses of the population to appropriate natural resources and land. It is a system that denies basic rights (including the right to life) to large sectors of workers based on what Saskia Sassen calls a process of “economic cleansing” (Sassen, 2014).

Due to this multiplicity and complexity of expulsion factors that combine, during the last two decades international organizations and academics have proposed new categories, such as “forced migrations” (Castles, 2003), mixed migrations (UNHCR), migrations of survival (Betts, 2013) and expulsions (Sassen, 2014). There seems to be some discomfort with the classic definition of refuge provided by the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, that is, a person who “due to well-founded fears of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, belonging to a certain social group or political opinions, is outside the country of his nationality and cannot or, because of these fears, does not want to avail himself of the protection of that country ”.

However, some academics warn that the categories of “forced migrations” place the emphasis on the system, and promote public policies with a perspective of “migration governance”, while the figure of the refugee continues to be fundamental to defend the autonomy of women. people as subjects of rights (Hathaway, 2007). In other words, it is essential to preserve the basic foundations of the international refugee system, since it still allows the persecuted population fleeing armed conflicts to access the rights of refugees recognized by national and international legal instruments.

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It seems to me1 It is relevant to ask ourselves about the way in which the division between labor migrants and refugees was instituted, as well as the changing meanings and meanings that these categories acquired over time. From my point of view, this division can be understood as an effect of the policies and practices of international regulation of population movements instituted throughout the twentieth century. In this sense, these categories are a historical product of the struggles between actors and institutions that sought to obtain authority over certain “population problems”, disputed a certain sphere of political intervention and / or competed for political, cultural and economic dominance over countries. , regions and migratory movements.

Recently, the division between labor migrants and refugees has ended up constituting different spheres of political intervention with the establishment of two Global Pacts, one for migration and the other for refuge, under the monopoly of IOM and UNHCR respectively. This separation comes from the disputes and confrontations that were generated around the large population movements during the 20th century, which were seen as a source of social, political and economic instability, especially around what was called the “excess population. "In postwar Europe. As various historical studies have shown (for example, Karatani, 2005; Saunders, 2014), although the “international refugee regime”, according to conventional definitions, was established during the second half of the twentieth century, it is not possible to fully understand the establishment of the division between "migrants" and "refugees" regardless of the interwar period or the context of the Second World War.

The confrontation between the government of the United States and international organizations such as the ilo and the United Nations was decisive for the formation of the international institutional structure that emerged after the Second World War aimed at addressing migratory movements: the icem (currently oim) and unhcr. At the same time, these organizations inherited institutional and economic resources, as well as ideas and disputes regarding action on the “refugee problem” and the large displacements of people that had taken place long before the end of that war conflict. On the other hand, as is known, the figure of the refugee that prevails today was formed in the context of the Second World War, with a strong imprint of the legal definition established in the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol and the actions and recommendations of the unhcr, created in 1950. But it is important to remember, as the studies cited indicate, that the central components of the official refugee definition, such as the notions of persecution and protection, in addition to the determination of certain exclusive rights for refugees , originated in measures that were taken during the 1920s and 1930s within the League of Nations, born immediately after the First World War, against the movements of displaced persons at that time; subsequently, the definition of the refugee as a victim of persecution and in need of international protection was completed with the formation of the International Organization for Refugees (oir) in the mid-1940s, at the end of the Second World War. A lesser known aspect is that the official definition of refugee was also determined by the rivalry relations between the United States and the Soviet Union and the actions by the American government to exclude the Soviet bloc from hearing. It was also during the interwar period and the years that followed that many of the conceptions and practices that have shaped and still shape institutional policies regarding refuge were forged. Central notions of the Global Compact for Refugees, established in 2018, such as “burden sharing”, were already part of the discussions held around the “refugee problem” within the framework of the League of Nations.

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Based on the latest United Nations data on global migration flows, we know that, in recent years, the number of refugees and asylum seekers has increased at a faster rate than the number of other types of migrants. Between 2010 and 2017 there were an additional 13 million forced migrants, representing about a quarter of the total increase in international migrants. During that period, refugees and asylum seekers increased at a rate of 8% per year, while the total of the rest of international migrants only increased at a rate of 2%. There are complex and numerous factors that explain these trends.

There is no doubt that protracted crises, conflict and insecurity in some regions, including parts of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Central America, have put pressure on the population in search of survival, protection and of hope in emigration. As research shows, more restrictive immigration policies, particularly towards temporary foreign workers and people with low human, social and economic capital, have led to more migrants crossing borders by means other than legal migration. Given the few possibilities of legal migration, the migration industry thrives, as the cases of the Mediterranean Sea, the Balkan route, the United States-Mexico border demonstrate well, and more recently and to a lesser extent, the Canada-United States border. Therefore, while the situations in refugee emigration countries are critical, global changes in migration policies, driven by the security conception of migration and its construction as a threat to security and stability have contributed to generate more asylum seekers and refugees. This trend is also driven by the new limits of administrative categories that impact the growth rates of people who fall under the category of asylum seekers and refugees.

In France, for example, before the 1970s, refugees used to be treated like other migrant workers, were under the same policies, and benefited from the same set of rights. However, the historical study of administrative categories of migrants indicates how, after a period of assimilation to other groups of foreign workers, refugees gradually distinguished themselves from them as foreigners with fewer rights, including a limited right to work, which it produced, therefore, its hyperprecariousness. Ultimately, the policies led to the subordination of the right to a protected status with the aim of controlling migration and counteracting irregular migration. Changes in the political construction of administrative categories are part of the trend we are currently observing.

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Based on your context and from a critical analytical perspective, how would you define the policies and actions of the State regarding displaced persons and refugees?

According to UNHCR, in 2018 there were 25.9 million refugees in the world, 3.5 million asylum seekers, and 41.3 million internally displaced people (UNHCR, 2019).2 While, at least since the mid-twentieth century, various international and regional instruments have been developed for the protection of refugees, internal forced displacement (DFI) lacks an international normative framework.3 Likewise, most destination countries have refugee laws, but few States have legislated to protect forcibly displaced persons within their territories.

Mexico has a relatively high recognition rate compared to the main destination countries such as the United States: in 2019 Mexico had a refugee status recognition rate of 74% (on the cases resolved that year), while the United States had a 31% recognition rate that year.4

However, the refugee system in Mexico suffers from structural and institutional problems mainly related to the lack of resources and the lack of a policy of social integration of refugees. The incessant growth in the number of refugee applications has led, in recent years, to the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid (COMAR) - the institution in charge of processing these applications - practically collapsed. Thus, in 2014 there were 2,137 applications, while in 2019 there were 70,302, with a growth of more than 3,000% in five years. On the other hand, the budget of this commission stagnated between 2015 and 2018 to decrease in 2019 by about 25%.

In relation to the dfi, Mexico does not have a law on the matter, nor any institution specifically in charge of the protection or care of displaced persons, although the General Law of Victims (LGV 2013) stipulates in several of its paragraphs rights and guarantees for these people. So far, no public policies have been designed to promote specialized attention to IDF, which has led to the frequent revictimization of these people by public institutions and societies (CNDH 2016, CMPDDH et al., 2017).

However, the problem of displacement in Mexico is ancient, since since the 1970s several studies have reported massive processes of population movements for political, religious or land tenure reasons, which occurred mainly in indigenous regions (Paris, 2012) . Currently, the dfi is closely linked to the extension of the de facto power of criminal organizations, to the State's security policies and to its strategy to combat drug trafficking. Based on a systematic study of the displacement processes in Mexico between 2014 and 2017, the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMPDH et al., 2017) estimates that there are at least
329,917 people displaced in the country. This civil society organization has carried out a numerical estimate, established trends and patterns of displacement, and has shown that the vast majority of displaced people subsist in conditions of profound vulnerability and invisibility (p. 8).

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I think that the concept of "migration regime and borders" has great heuristic potential to understand the transformations that took place in the field of migration and border policies in South America. The use of "migration regime" or "border regime" seeks to investigate and account for processes and practices of control and response that are usually omitted by those analyzes that use notions such as "international refugee regime" or "new international regime for the orderly movement of people ”to refer primarily to the set of norms, institutions and procedures that regulate the movements of“ migrants ”,“ refugees ”or“ displaced ”. In accordance with these premises, I understand that state policies and actions regarding displaced persons and refugees need to be understood within the framework of a “South American migration and border regime”, rather than isolating or confining the issue of refuge to a “ regional refugee regime ”.

From my perspective, in recent years the South American States, to a greater or lesser extent, have carried out, especially since the coming to power of neoconservative and neoliberal governments, what we could call a "policy of hostility" combined with a "political of selective hospitality ”. The different national states have launched a variety of actions that respond both to negotiations at the regional level and to certain situations in the respective national context. Some national groups such as Venezuelans have been favored with different measures aimed at facilitating their transit or residence, under the humanitarian argument. These measures are part of what I would call a "temporary policy". At times, the state agencies in charge of immigration matters have resolved to limit the "facilities" offered such as establishing certain restrictions: granting temporary residence permits, mandatory valid passport without admitting identity card, request for a certificate of criminal record or past judicial apostille and establishment of special visas or consular visas (humanitarian or tourist visa). Now, beyond the national scope of these practices, it is important not to lose sight of the construction of a "regional response" to the massive movement of Venezuelans. The Lima Group, created in 2017 and made up of several of the South American states, currently represents the regional position that right-wing governments have assumed in relation to migration and refuge. In this direction, it is essential to take into account the deployment of joint actions between national governments, IOM and UNHCR. It is revealing that national governments have delegated to these international organizations the action plan resulting from the "Quito Declaration on human mobility of Venezuelan citizens in the region."

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Today, policies and actions on refugees are eminently linked to national electoral concerns and international geopolitical processes. Turkey clearly illustrates the latter. When the war in Syria started in 2010, Turkey established an “open borders” policy that allowed Syrian asylum seekers to cross the border and find safety in Turkey. The reason behind this policy was the belief that the Assad regime would fall quickly, given the heavy military investment by international allies in the conflict. Turkey positioned itself as the benefactor neighbor that temporarily protected the lives of the oppressed by designating Syrians as "guests." However, more than humanitarian, this open-door policy was eminently political and economic; It was part of the neo-Ottomanist policy of the Erdogan government in the region, seeking to politically build the former territories of the Ottoman Empire as areas of influence to be reconquered. But initial optimism about the war in Syria faded, and as the conflict worsened and persisted, Turkey's open door policy resulted in the installation of 3.8 million Syrian asylum seekers in the country, mainly in cities, while less than 10% was established in the government camps located on the border between Turkey and Syria. This situation, often presented as a migration crisis, was in part the result of Turkey's own foreign policy towards Syria and its positioning in the region. Turkey's hope of playing a central role in rebuilding Syria, while Syrians could quickly reintegrate their home country, faded over the years.

Along with this international crisis, Turkey began to use Syrians and other refugees living within its borders as a diplomatic tool, literally trading their bodies in political relations with the European Union. At the same time, the divided and ambiguous position of the European Union in the negotiations with Turkey during the accession process to the European Union, which began in 2005, revealed its contradictions regarding migration policies. While the European Union passed a non-binding decision to suspend negotiations with Turkey in November 2016, no progress was made on that decision for fear of damaging diplomatic relations with that country. The determination of the European Union to prevent the "migration crisis" of 2015 required the cooperation of Turkey. At various moments of tension between the European Union and Turkey, Erdogan threatened to "open the doors" and flood Europe with migrants if it froze talks on Turkey's accession. The negotiation of the bodies of the refugees culminated in the agreement in March 2016 between the European Union and Turkey, by which the latter agreed to retain migrants within its borders in exchange for six billion euros. This agreement calmed European anxieties and anti-immigration factions and completely undermined the ability of the European Union to pressure Turkey to respect European standards regarding human rights and democracy.

This review of the complex and unethical macropolitical games that underlie the framework of refugee policies in Turkey and the European Union exemplifies how human needs and despair can be reduced to political bargaining chips. Meanwhile, millions of lives are being neglected for the sake of macro-power dynamics. While there is nothing new under the sun, the number of human beings seeking protection today is unprecedented, and the political games that prevent effective solutions require vigorous criticism.

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What elements or considerations should possible proposals contain to address these problems at the local, national or international level?

The criteria for designing public policies for the care of refugees or internally displaced persons must be based on international human rights instruments to which the State has adhered, as well as an integration perspective based on principles of human rights and equity of rights. gender. In Mexico, despite the fact that both the Migration Law (2011) and the Law on Refugees, Complementary Protection and Political Asylum (2014) are based on human rights principles, policies towards people in the context of mobility regularly contradict and violate those principles , giving priority to the function of immigration containment and notions of national security or public security. As for forcibly displaced persons, there is not yet a protection or inclusion policy.

On the other hand, the problem of forced displacement must be observed at the regional level, taking into account the geostrategic situation of Central America and Mexico. Indeed, the Mesoamerican region constitutes a corridor through which not only people from this same region travel, but also people expelled from regions as far away as the Horn of Africa or Southeast Asia. The trend in the last five years has been that, as migratory routes from North Africa and the Mediterranean are drastically closed, the number of people traveling extremely long routes across several continents, passing through Central America and entering Mexico through its southern border. The vast majority of these people displaced by violence try to reach US territory, but due to immigration containment policies and the lack of alternative documentation, they are currently blocked for months in southern Mexico.

Historically, Mexico was not a destination country, if we consider that throughout the 20th century the population born in another country never exceeded 1%. Likewise, according to the UNHCR representative, in 2018 Mexico was not even among the top 100 refugee-receiving countries in the world. However, due to its geographical position and the relations of economic and political dependence on the United States - the main destination country in the world - Mexico has become a wide belt of migratory containment. The restrictive and punitive policy towards people in the context of mobility has drastically affected the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees.5 Thus, thousands of people seeking to reach the United States to request asylum in that country have been blocked in border regions of the north and south of Mexico, and forced to request refugee status in this country.

It is therefore urgent to strengthen institutions whose mission is not only to process asylum applications, but also to protect the human rights of internally displaced persons or across borders. Likewise, considering that Mexico is very quickly transformed into a destination country, the design and implementation of policies for the social integration of people in the context of mobility are urgent.

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I think that critical inquiry into the production and effects of the "international refugee regime", as well as those practices that constitute or derive it, can be a productive approach to imagine other possible proposals. In this sense, it seems important to me to distinguish between criticisms of a technical nature that underline the distance or contradiction between the written norm and the ways in which it is violated, and those critical remarks that problematize and question refugee policies without taking for granted what Malkki (1995) calls the "national order of things" in the field of refuge and asylum.

Currently, the text of the Global Compact on Refugees offers many elements to broaden and deepen the discussion about alternative policies at different scales. In order to imagine alternative policies and practices to the dominant way of thinking and acting on “forced migrations”, it would be problematic if this document is assumed in a prescriptive way, that is, as things that have to be done. The recognition and protection of a few within the universe of the "eligible", those who respond to the figure of the "good refugee", the true or genuine "deserving" of refugee status, discredits and deprives the rest of the migrants , particularly those outlawed, of any principle, right or possible benefit contemplated by the "protection policies". This is what happens in a paradigmatic way with the principle of non-refoulement. These issues should lead to a careful consideration of the relationship between refuge, humanitarianism and border securing. In this sense, it is necessary to take into consideration that, as Didier Bigo pointed out some time ago, humanitarian discourse can be understood as a by-product of the “securitization” process: this is the case, for example, when a differentiation is established between genuine asylum seekers and “illegal” migrants, the former being helped while the latter are sentenced, at the same time that such differentiation serves to justify border controls (Bigo, 2002).

Finally, I believe that there are many lessons to be learned from the enormous heterogeneity of experiences of struggle, protest, opposition or resistance that asylum seekers and refugees have carried out in different parts of the world. If there were any intention to radically transform the field of migration policies (including refugee), it would be necessary to pay more attention to the figure of the “bad refugee” and to listen more to the disobedient “refugees”, to the “heretics”.

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A critical area of intervention concerns refugees as workers. Today, asylum seekers and refugees in many countries of the world form a precarious, cheap and vulnerable workforce that meets the needs of employers and capitalist owners. In Turkey, the 3.8 million Syrian refugees have an ambiguous status, a product of the conditions of the temporary protection regime under which they are registered. Syrians in Turkey are offered a temporary residence permit, but access to a work permit is virtually impossible. This situation pushes Syrians into the informal sector, where they are employed as unauthorized workers, often under abusive conditions. Surviving on extremely low incomes, working-class families are forced to send their children and teenagers to work. This situation transforms Syrian workers into a workforce similar to those of the undocumented from the countries of the global north, since not having authorization to work creates a deportation regime for which Syrians fear being detained and deported. It also serves to discipline the workforce and benefits the Turkish economy, which is going through a severe crisis. The transformation of these refugees into a cheap labor force, unexpected but welcome, deserves attention and the implementation of policies towards Syrians no longer as refugees, but as long-term residents living in precarious status and requiring full labor rights. . The recent proposals of the UN Global Compact on Refugees can open paths for legal insertion in the labor market, but for countries like Turkey, with a large informal sector and without a foreign labor program, they can be very relevant. limited.

At the international level, a depoliticization of human migration is necessary in order to address the situation and provide respect and dignity to asylum seekers fleeing conflicts in the Middle East. Short-term solutions could include exchanging the flow of refugees created by the very countries involved in the conflict, including the European Union. At the national level, multiple initiatives counteract and mitigate the precariousness and exploitation of labor and living conditions, but it is necessary to expand them. A radical ideological change is imposed to provide dignity and respect to vulnerable populations in the region and in other parts of the world.

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Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados (acnur) (2019, 19 de junio). “El desplazamiento global supera los 70 millones de personas y el Alto Comisionado de la onu para los Refugiados pide más solidaridad”, en acnur. Recuperado de, consultado el 26 de febrero de 2020.

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EncartesVol. 7, No. 13, March 2024-September 2024, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: March 25, 2024.