Ideas on how to solve the so-called refugee crisis are heavily skewed towards research from Europe and North America, often leading to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ solutions
As the so-called “refugee crisis” continues to dominate European political and media debate, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the way in which some academics are responding to “solve” the issue.
“Refugia” is the latest idea. Conceived of by two Oxford University academics, Refugia would be an autonomous region in which refugees would live and work, separated from the communities for whom their presence has become so politically problematic. The location of these areas and the numbers of people living there would involve bargaining and negotiation between richer states and the countries of the global south, in which 85 per cent of displaced people currently live.
The proposal comes hard on the heels of suggestions from two other Oxford academics that “Special Economic Zones” be established in countries hosting large numbers of refugees in countries close to Europe to deter them from crossing the Mediterranean. The recently appointed mayor of Amsterdam has similarly called for a land of Zatopia, a utopian community where refugees can take fate into their own hands and have self-government.
Presenting their ideas at the biannual conference of the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration in Thessaloniki this week, the Refugia authors were keen to distance themselves from other proposals which seek to establish totally autonomous areas in which refugees can live. These include “Europe in Africa”, a new city-state which would be founded on an artificial island built on a shallow Tunisian plateau between Italy and Tunisia, and “Refugee Nation”, which would involve the relocation of refugees to an existing and unspecified island.
But the idea of Refugia is based on the same flawed conceptual underpinnings and assumptions about what it means to be a refugee. It is also extremely dangerous.