Migrants and Citizens

Rwanda’s first refugees: Tutsi exile and international response 1959–64


Pages 211-229 | Received 01 Jun 2011, Published online: 10 May 2012


By the time Rwanda gained independence from Belgium in 1962, 200,000 Rwandan Tutsi had left to seek exile in neighbouring states. Drawing on British archives, this article traces international responses to this refugee crisis in Uganda, arguing that the political subtleties of this displacement are often overlooked.

British officials’ anxious responses to the Tutsi exodus in 1959 were dominated above all by concern for Ugandan decolonisation. Yet after independence in 1962, the Rwandans were quickly re-imagined by Ugandan actors who had previously supported their right to remain in the territory as a threat to Ugandan national citizenship. This political exclusion of the Tutsi elite prompted increasing refugee militarisation, yet the resulting inyenzi raids only provided further justification for the international community to pursue a humanitarian rather than a political course in responding to the Rwandan crisis.

The article concludes that recognising the complexities of this early refugee movement and international responses to the crisis is important. Such study allows a more critical analysis of prevalent narratives around histories of exile and return in Rwanda, and underlines the role that international refugee protection policies may play in creating protracted refugee crises.

    Early Repatriation Policy: Russian Refugee Return 1922–1924

    Early Repatriation Policy: Russian Refugee Return 1922–1924

    Journal of Refugee Studies, Volume 22, Issue 2, 1 June 2009, Pages 133–154


    The repatriation of Russian refugees from Bulgaria between 1922 and 1924 under League of Nations’ supervision represents the earliest international attempt to organize a co-ordinated refugee return. Drawing on new archival research, this article argues that enhanced understandings of the historical development of repatriation contribute to the contemporary political theorization of repatriation. It demonstrates the long-standing liberal-international commitment to the ethical corollaries of ‘voluntariness’, ‘safety’ and ‘protection’ in repatriation, despite the manipulation of these terms by political émigré groups interested in resisting Soviet state power. This exposes the complex connections between the early 20th-century rise of the sovereign European nation-state and consequent refugee exodus. Repatriation was thus a fundamentally political project concerned with restoring the relations between state, nation and citizen: it ultimately failed in the Russian–Bulgarian case not because of any disagreement over repatriation’s liberal corollaries, but because of disputes between the League of Nations, the Soviet State and the Russian refugees themselves regarding the nature of both inter-state and intra-state sovereignty. The article concludes by suggesting that it is these questions of political community which continue to pose the greatest challenge to repatriation as a durable solution to contemporary refugee crises.

      In Search of Sanctuary: Border Closures, ‘Safe’ Zones and Refugee Protection

      In Search of Sanctuary: Border Closures, ‘Safe’ Zones and Refugee Protection, Journal of Refugee Studies, Volume 26, Issue 3, 1 September 2013, Pages 458–476


      In the past two decades, refugee-hosting states have increasingly chosen to close their borders when confronted with mass refugee influxes. This article examines humanitarian responses to such closures. I argue that, particularly in the post-Cold War period, the international community has increasingly chosen not to condemn but to mitigate such closures, constructing alternative ‘safety’ zones. Yet while border closures that lead to ‘safe zones’ may offer a minimal security and preserve life through humanitarian relief, they cannot offer the full protections of refugee law, or a durable solution to persecution and political exclusion

        Push-pull plus: reconsidering the drivers of migration

        Special Issue: Aspiration, Desire and the Drivers of Migration
        Push-pull plus: reconsidering the drivers of migration
        Nicholas Van Hear, Oliver Bakewell & Katy Long
        Pages 1-18 | Published online: 18 Oct 2017


        Drivers can be understood as forces leading to the inception of migration and the perpetuation of movement. This article considers key drivers of migration and explores different ways that they may be configured. We modify existing explanations of migration to generate a framework which we call push-pull plus. To understand migration flows better, analysts could usefully distinguish between predisposing, proximate, precipitating and mediating drivers. Combinations of such drivers shape the conditions, circumstances and environment within which people choose to move or stay put, or have that decision thrust upon them. In any one migration flow, several driver complexes may interconnect to shape the eventual direction and nature of movement. The challenge is to establish when and why some drivers are more important than others, which combinations are more potent than others, and which are more susceptible to change through external intervention. Drawing on Afghan and Somali movements featuring ‘mixed migration’, the article concludes that proximate and mediating drivers, rather than those in the structural and precipitating spheres, appear to offer greater potential for intervention. To be effective, though, migration policy should be understood not simply as a stand-alone lever, but within the wider political economy.

          When Refugees Stopped Being Migrants

          When refugees stopped being migrants: Movement, labour and humanitarian protection
          Migration Studies, Volume 1, Issue 1, 1 March 2013, Pages 4–26
          Published: 25 January 2013


          States and refugee advocates often insist that ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ are separate distinct categories, despite ample evidence that these labels blur in practice. However, little attention is paid to the fact that in the past refugees were considered as migrants, with international attention focusing on securing their access to existing migration channels. This article traces this tangled history of refugee and migrant identities through the 1920s to the 1950s, when ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ categories were separated. The article argues that treating refugees as migrants in the 1920s and 1930s failed to ensure their protection from persecution because their admission was entirely dependent upon economic criteria. Separating refugees from migrants in the 1950s—by providing refugees with an exceptional right to cross borders and claim asylum—helped to address this protection gap. However, the article shows that in creating a special route for admission deliberately set apart from migration, the humanitarian discourse that protects refugees from harm actually prevents refugees from finding durable solutions, which depend upon securing an economic livelihood and not just receiving humanitarian assistance. The article concludes that, in the interests of refugee solutions, the extent of separation between refugee protection and access to migration should be reversed. Refugee advocates should reconsider the many innovative lessons both from the Nansen era and the decade of experimentation that preceded the establishment of today’s contemporary refugee protection framework in 1951. While asylum and the ‘refugee’ category perform essential roles in admitting those in need of international protection, asylum alone—unlike migration—cannot meet long-term needs. Reconfiguring understandings of on-going refugee protection to facilitate movement and prioritize the securing of sustainable livelihoods would both better reflect the reality of people’s movements in conflict and crisis and offer more opportunities for durable solutions to protracted crises.

            Refugee and Forced Migration Studies has grown from being a concern of a relatively small number of scholars and policy researchers in the 1980s to a global field of interest with thousands of students worldwide studying displacement either from traditional disciplinary perspectives or as a core component of newer programmes across the Humanities and Social and Political Sciences. Today the field encompasses both rigorous academic research which may or may not ultimately inform policy and practice, as well as action-research focused on advocating in favour of refugees’ needs and rights.Oxford Handbook

            This authoritative Handbook critically evaluates the birth and development of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, and analyses the key contemporary and future challenges faced by academics and practitioners working with and for forcibly displaced populations around the world. The 52 state-of-the-art chapters, written by leading academics, practitioners, and policymakers working in universities, research centres, think tanks, NGOs and international organizations, provide a comprehensive and cutting-edge overview of the key intellectual, political, social and institutional challenges arising from mass displacement in the world today. The chapters vividly illustrate the vibrant and engaging debates that characterize this rapidly expanding field of research and practice.

              In the past twenty years, over 25 million refugees have returned ‘home’. These refugee repatriations are considered by the international community to be the only real means of solving mass refugee crises. Yet despite the importance placed on repatriation—both in principle and practice—there has been very little exploration of the political controversies that have framed refugee return. Several questions remain unresolved: do refugees have a right to refuse return? How can you remake citizenship after exile? Is ‘home’ a place or a community? How should the liberal principles be balanced against nationalist state order?

              The Point of No Return: Rights, Refugees and Repatriation sets out to answer these questions and to examine the fundamental tensions between liberalism and nationalism that repatriation exposes. It makes clear that repatriation cannot be considered as a mere act of border-crossing, a physical moment of ‘return’. Instead, repatriation must be recognised to be a complex political process, involving the remaking of a relationship between citizen and state, the recreation of a social contract.

              A comprehensive and highly original analysis of refugee repatriation from a historical, political and philosophical perspective. Essential reading for policymakers, practitioners and academics with an interest in humanitarian action.

              Dr Jeff Crisp, Senior Director for Policy and Advocacy, Refugees International