Uprootedness characterises the lives of millions of people globally and is likely to increase in the 21st century as economic globalisation, violence and conflict continue. How can practical interventions minimise the injustices faced by refugees and oustees? Compiled for the Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation and Poverty, this paper explores the growing literature in both refugee and oustee studies and explores the application of rights-based approaches to forced migration.
Refugees displaced outside their countries of origin have the protection of international law that internally displaced people lack. The term oustee describes people ousted from their habitat through government intervention, specifically ‘development’ induced displacement. While most attention is paid to refugees crossing borders to flee persecution, both refugees and oustees are viewed, at best, as recipients of charity and welfare and, at worst, as victims or problems.
Despite the similar disruptions faced by refugee and oustee populations in terms of their economic, social and cultural organisation, policies for refugees and oustees have different institutional contexts and are governed by different legal regimes. Refugee policies largely focus on providing relief and oustee programmes concentrate on providing the bare minimum in economic compensation.
- Largely, refugees have been viewed as problems for host countries and interventions have focused on durable solutions, including voluntary repatriation, integration or resettlement.
- Refugees’ claims to entitlements are rooted directly in the universality of human rights as enshrined in international law, yet the imperative on host states to assume responsibility for their overall wellbeing is not quite so clear cut.
- Oustees are often viewed as the unfortunate victims of development projects that are necessary for a country’s prosperity or for the greater common good.
- During the early years of development-induced displacement there were no comprehensive resettlement and rehabilitation plans and oustees were given a paltry amount of cash with no assurance of land, livelihood or job security.
- The history of forced displacement for both refugees and oustees has been characterised by trauma, psycho-social loss, impoverishment and ill-health.
Given the top-down nature of conventional policies, it is little wonder that both refugees and oustees often reject official settlement programmes and food aid services, preferring instead the freedom and autonomy to decide and rebuild their own lives.
- Mainstream research has largely been interested in the perspective of the planner instead of the priorities of the refugee or oustee.
- Questions of what ‘adequate protection’ or resettlement and rehabilitation mean to the refugee or oustee are seldom asked.
- There is now growing acknowledgement that research has largely focused on the negative social, economic and cultural impacts of resettlement to the abject neglect of the dynamics involved in realising the rights of those displaced.
- Approaches that have tried to accord agency to refugees and oustees as they make the best of their adverse conditions and mobilise around their rights are few and far between.
- The focus on impoverishment risks has been valuable but now needs to be complemented or replaced by approaches that seek to focus on realising the rights of oustees and refugees.
- Mechanisms need to be developed whereby refugees and oustees can provide their own definitions of loss and impoverishment and thus become respected stakeholders in the displacement and planning process.
- There is a need for far more nuanced research amongst refugees, oustees, NGOs and planners around how rights talk can become rights practice.