The role of refugees in conflict resolution and post-conflict
Political linkages with the homeland
Although it has long been recognised that immigrants, ethnic minorities, alien resident populations and other groups of people living outside their homeland retain political allegiances with the latter, this has become of key interest more recently given current global security threats. However, this issue has been relatively marginalized in migration studies, with some exceptions. For instance, the literature on the political connections between diasporic populations and their countries/regions of origin has looked at how established generations of long-standing diasporic populations, such as the Jews or Africans, have had to grapple with questions of national identification, and how this is happening again among the descendents of, for example, South Asian immigrants worldwide (Evans Braziel and Mannur, 2003). Some of the work done on transnational migration has also focused not only on economic and personal social exchanges, but also on political activities and more specifically on the impact that transnational communities and diaspora populations can have and often do have on political events in their countries/regions of origin helped by forces of globalisation, such as developments in communications and transport (Van Hear 2003). More recently, there has been some research looking at the role that modern diasporas or so-called transnational communities, including refugees, play (or can potentially play) in armed conflict, peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction in their countries of origin.
- Van Hear, N. (2003) Refugee Diasporas, Remittances, Development and Conflict. Migration Information Source. http://www.migrationinformation.org/feature/display.cfm?ID=125
The role that refugees play during an armed conflict and its resolution is not limited to their reintegration into society after return. As noted above in the Guatemalan case, refugees can play an active role in the peace negotiations. They can also be key to the success or failure of a peace process. One of the most contentious issues in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, for instance, is the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in the case of a successful peace process. Some recent literature has begun to include refugees in the study of transnational migration and diasporas, to analyse how refugee groups are also developing transnational linkages (Al-Ali et al., 2001, p.579; see also Koser, 2002; Ostergaard-Nielsen, 2003; Van Hear, 2002; Wahlbeck, 1998). One way of looking at this is analysing migrant remittances. Although the data on remittances sent by asylum seekers and refugees is scant and difficult to estimate, Koser and Van Hear (2003) argue that the extent of this phenomenon can be ascertained by looking at the figures for countries that have experienced conflict and produced refugees in recent years: Colombia (more than $650 million annually), Sri Lanka (close to $1 billion).
Such remittances can have both beneficial and negative impacts on the people and countries receiving them, especially in the case of societies in conflict (Van Hear, 2003). Remittances, for instance, can further inequalities because of the unevenness in their distribution, and they can help fuel the conflict in the homeland by providing funding for warring parties (Van Hear 2003). The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, like some other guerrilla groups, relied on a wide network of offices and cells across the world to raise funds from the diaspora (Uppsala Conflict Database). However, the contribution of refugee groups to their countries of origin are not only economic, but as with other immigrant groups they extend into the political and social fields as well, and can have beneficial effects. Recent research, for example, has began to look at the impact that refugee communities, and wider diaspora populations, can have on societies undergoing post-conflict reconstruction.
- Forced Migration Online, Thematic Resources: Summaries: Palestinians http://www.forcedmigration.org/browse/thematic/solidarity-palestinians.htm
- Uppsala Conflict Database, http://www.pcr.uu.se/database/conflictSummary.php?bcID=151
Two contrasting case studies: Bosnia and Eritrea
Eritrea. The case of the Eritrean diaspora has been used as a key example of political transnationalism, given their active role in the achievement of Eritrean independence. The country was initially an Italian colony, was later run by the British and following decolonisation it was finally annexed by Ethiopia, which led to the beginnings of 30 years of fighting by Eritrean liberation groups led mainly by the EPLF (Eritrea Peoples Liberation Front). Following political events in Ethiopia, Eritrea became de facto independent in 1991 and de jure independent in 1993. The contribution of the large Eritrean diaspora to independence and the viability of the new state has been crucial: they participated massively in the independence referendum in 1993; they contributed to reconstruction through regular payments, remittances and investment; and they maintained political linkages with the homeland, stimulated by the government.
Bosnia. By constrast, refugees have played a much lesser role in the pacification and reconstruction in Bosnia. Up to 1992, the republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of six Yugoslavian republics. In the early 1990s, armed conflict broke out in Bosnia, largely as a result of the war for independence that broke out in some of these republics. At the end of the war in Bosnia in 1995, there were more than 1 million IDPs and 1.3 million refugees abroad. Bosnian refugees have had a low participation in elections and political parties back home, with the exception of some groups seeking to promote democracy and other issues. This is partly because the government in Bosnia, unlike in the case of Eritrea, has not sought to boost their political or economic participation in the reconstruction phase. Although personal and social linkages have been maintained, the continuing political and social instability in Bosnia has made the issue of return less desirable for some refugees.
- Black, R., Koser, K. and Al-Ali, N. (1998-2000) The Mobilisation and Participation of Transnational Exile Communities in Post-conflict Reconstruction: A Comparison of Bosnia and Eritrea Research Briefing No.1, Transnational Communities: An ESRC Programme http://www.transcomm.ox.ac.uk/
- Uppsala Conflict Database: Eritrea http://www.pcr.uu.se/database/conflictSummary.php?bcID=28 Bosnia http://www.pcr.uu.se/database/conflictSummary.php?bcID=172