Головна » 2008 » Грудень » 10 » “Refugee Studies and Politics - Human Dimensions and Response Perspectives.”
“Refugee Studies and Politics - Human Dimensions and Response Perspectives.”

Рецензія Олександра Свєтлова - “Refugee Studies and Politics - Human Dimensions and Response Perspectives.” Susanne Binder and Jelena Tošić (ed.), 2002. Facultas Verlags- und Buchhandels AG, WUV, Berggasse 5, A-1090 Wien, Austria. ISBN 3-85114-723-5.


The rationale behind this book is the creation of a new focus on refugee studies, especially in the context of the former Yugoslavia and Austria, which was badly hit by a sudden inflow of people affected by the conflicts in the Balkans. It highlights the shortcomings of existent approach towards refugees and provides a sense of direction for the future European policies dealing with asylum seekers in order to avoid mistakes of the past. The current role of refugees is effectively downplayed and reduced to the image of a helpless victim. People fleeing their homes are viewed as a problem to be solved whereas their internal potential is systematically disregarded. Present policy approaches have been criticised for ignoring gender differences as well as aggregating various social, linguistic, cultural and educational characteristics.


The Western world has been addressing the issues of settlement facilitation and integration of a growing number of refugees for some time now. These policies have, to some considerable degree, been associated with ambiguity, complexity and contention. As a matter of principle, the refugee as a category implies the right to special protection, including a possibility of social integration. In practice, however, integration is assessed in accordance with the situation in receiving country and compatibility of refugees` and local cultures.  Thus it takes the willingness of both groups to adjust.


The modernised concept of integration is becoming more important in a world of growing transnational mobility, which calls into question the previous cultural, ethnic and political boundaries. The problem of power and definition of migration is vivid in disagreements between the receiving societies, who usually deny the integration programmes during the determination period and the proponents of refugee rights, who actively support wide access to such programmes immediately after the asylum claim has been filed.


The articles in general fall into two major categories: the first deal with a description of phenomena from a macro-perspective, the second are more concerned with individual case studies, some even going to the level of a particular asylum seeker.



The contribution of Andre Gingrich examines three aspects of Refugee Studies: the relevance of anthropology and social sciences, emergence of cultural identities and international politics. As far as anthropology is concerned, refugees constantly prove that local cultures are not bounded, stable or coherent entities, but rather constitute a complex outcome of wider developments and interactions. The local cultures have fluid boundaries, they are internally contested and linked through many unequal flows to the outside world. Forced migration represents one of these flows.


The author advocates the view, that refugee studies should gain more relevance for the mainstream academia, because they challenge the construction of the world's both past and present as well as any fictitious notions of societies or cultures as closed systems. They also remind us of the social responsibility and public accountability. Thus the international law defines forced and involuntary migration as caused by persecution on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group and when subsequently the national boundaries have been crossed. From the anthropological point of view, on the other hand, the term of forced migration should also apply to those, who are internally displaced, as well as to migrants, fleeing from ecological and economic disasters. Taking the case of Austria into consideration, since yearly 2000 the country has been governed by the parties that considered migration to be a danger for the local culture and identity. From a historical perspective, however, the politicians failed to see that the refugee flows have significantly shaped the Austrian culture.



The article of Maja Korać deals with the refugee integration in the Italian context. In search of a more objective term of successful integration, the author is set to find out the factors pertinent to the refugees` subjective feeling of well being. She describes the links between the Italian policy context and the effective voluntary establishment of refugees` reception systems meant to address the deficiencies of formal policies. The virtual lack of official reception system and the absence of established migrant communities in Rome called for an improvised creation of cross-ethnic refugee networks, which served as an alternative to the official system of disseminating information, resolving housing problems, finding work and providing psycho-social support. Migrants' own efforts helped them to become more independent, self-sufficient and self-conscious.


The author discovered that there were two major integration mechanisms: those operating on the level of day-to-day contacts with the ordinary representatives of the local community and at the level of state institutions. Different aspects of integration, such as functional (e. g. labour market and education), but also social, prove that the actual integration success depends on these aspects. Thus after six to seven years in Rome, left to their own devices, over 60 % of the interviewed refugees worked six days a week, ten to twelve hours a day, often on low-paid night shift jobs. As the result, most of them did not feel secure and claimed that the virtual lack of the official reception and support system forced them into such social niches, which were hard to abandon. During the first years the main obstacles for contact establishment with the local population lied in the lack of opportunity to get acquainted with those of similar status and background. The refugee men were more disadvantaged in this respect, as women were mostly employed in domestic services, and their contacts with Italian families often developed into friendship.          


According to the author's view, the former refugees had a rather negative perception of politics. That was due to the fact, that they came from a post-Communist country, where public will was not paid adequate attention to, moreover the actual liberalisation threw the country into the abyss of civil war. Many of those interviewed were rather sceptical towards the prospects of active political engagement for improvement. The context of the Italian political system itself was not very conductive to any significant change in attitudes towards the refugees. The immigrant tactics were found to be more practical, aiming mainly at obtaining the Italian citizenship as a means of increasing security and cementing their new status in the face of growing racism and xenophobia.  



Susanne Binder concentrates on the case study of Bosnian refugees in Vienna, highlighting the humanitarian aspects and refugee potential in terms of their self-organisation and integration. A day-nursery under study has been established in Vienna by a Bosnian refugee couple in 1992, which constituted an interesting case of practice continuation, set forth on a foreign soil but also qualitatively somewhat different. It encompassed some new elements of cultural knowledge and served as a continuation of a temporary and informal child care system and was able to address the special needs of the refugee families.


The new position of refugees in a host country forced them into a role marked by passivity and loss of self-responsibility. These "strangers" seemed to be tolerated by society as long as they did not disturb. Their temporary legal status only confirmed the feeling of inferiority, which was already derived from such additional circumstances as the absence of work permit. Work as a factor conferring meanings to people's lives was largely missing for the refugees, as their daily activities were not structured by routine practices as before. The refugees were pressed into a passive position due to their dependence on the authorities and absence of private initiative.


Evulsion as a term describes the psychic, social and cultural state of somebody who lost his reference values, group affiliation and/or homeland, but has not yet developed any identification with a foreign environment. The symptoms may result in identity crisis, lack of self-confidence and profound stress. By way of example, a large part of human prestige and self-understanding in any society is based on material products. A sudden loss of one's possessions may result in an identity crisis and a complex of inferiority. A mental escape in such a situation is also secured when the realities of the home country get indiscriminately idealised by clinging to the past memories and retreating from the present.


Refugees were posed with multiple problems on a new soil. Thus living together with representatives of different nationalities and social classes as well as the lack of privacy in refugee camps constituted a great potential for conflicts – both intra- and extragroup. Food consumption as a deeply ingrained family practice with a set of socialising meanings has also been undermined by a standardised food distribution. Shifting roles with the families were exemplified by the fact that fathers could not hold a traditional position of a breadwinner and thus did not maintain the families anymore. Mothers also lost their caring functions as they stood better chances of finding some employment.


Some attention has been drawn recently to the marginalised situation of refugee children, who experienced a rupture of the socio-cultural environment and subsequently had to adapt to the new requirements, values, language and codes of behaviour within much shorter time period, as compared to adults. In such a context of discontinuation and instability children became for many a motivating hope and a sense of life.



As far as individual cases are concerned, Jelena Tosić reflects upon the development of Refugee Studies and focuses on a case study of one Krajina Serb refugee, thus raising important questions on the main prejudices about refugees and human rights values in contemporary political and public discourse. Nowadays the number of migrants world-wide is growing from year to year and many exist in a generalised condition of homelessness. In a world of nation states however, refugees are still conceived as a threat resulting from their alleged uprootedness, de-territorisation, loss of culture and value system. The present article proves that it is not necessarily the case. 



Renata Jambrešić-Kirin elaborates on Croatian experience of constructing women identity in exile and representation of refugees in Croatian public discourses. She points to the fact that some refugees` idealisation about their home country's past should be viewed against the backdrop of socialist ideology of strong patriotic emotions. In Yugoslavia such patriotism was largely built upon the economic and social achievements with loyalty to traditional values, thus bridging the tensions between urban and rural, local and "progressive" mentalities.



The article of Zarana Papić focuses on gender and identity issues in the Serbian context and shows the influence of extreme existential insecurity. Social and political transformations in Eastern Europe since 1989 brought about an acute phenomenon of violence. The communist patriarchal legacy gave women legal rights but strategically prevented them from becoming active political subjects. With a disappearance of equality paradigm the role of women retreated into naturalisation and traditinalisation as a nation's sacred essence on one hand, and a legitimate target for violence against the enemy nation and female as the holder of cultural identity on the other. The civil war brought the nationalist revival of the patriarchal traditions. Women became almost non-present in the public sphere, as men constituted the nations' core. The increased rate of violence against women became indicative of how men coped with unwanted gender egalitarianism.


Michael Nussbaumer provides insights into the NGO activities, targeting refugees and displaced persons. He describes the Austrian asylum policies towards war-deserters from the former Yugoslavia.  


Natalija Vrečer focuses on the socio-political situation of refugees in Slovenia, considering European asylum policies as a “temporary protection” only.


Angelina Topan critically examines the issues of women trafficking in Europe and calls for a common European policy on migration.


Gudrun Kroner´s contribution deals with the refugee policy towards Somalis in Austria. The focus lies on the specific circumstances and conditions determining the refugee behaviour.

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