'Forced migration' is defined by the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) as 'a general term that refers to the movements of refugees and internally displaced people (those displaced by conflicts) as well as people displaced by natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine, or development projects'. Forced migrants include: refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The legal definition of a 'refugee' comes from the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Article 1 of the Convention defines a refugee as a person outside his or her country of nationality, who is unable or unwilling to return because of a 'well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a political social group, or political opinion'. Refugees who are recognized as such in their country of refuge have a clear legal status. If that State has ratified the Convention, they will enjoy the rights and benefits which it provides, and may also be able to rely on the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). At the end of 2001, there were estimated to be some 14 million refugees around the world, the vast majority of which are in Asia and Africa.
Asylum seekers are people who have left their country and are seeking protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention, but whose claim for refugee status has yet to be determined. Most asylum seekers do not come from the world's poorest states, but from failed or failing states enduring civil war, and with high degrees of human rights abuses and significant levels of poverty. Annual asylum claims in Western Europe, Australia, Canada, and the USA combined peaked at 828,645 in 1992, fell sharply by the mid-1990s steadily rose again towards the end of the decade before falling again. However, the number of people who are seeking asylum in Western states comprises a small fraction of the total number displaced around the world.
IDPs are defined as 'persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognised State border'. (Report of the Secretary-General of the UN, UNOCHA 1999 http://www.reliefweb.int/ocha_ol/pub/idp_gp/idp.html) Estimates on the numbers of IDPs continue to be controversial, due to debate over definitions as well as methodological and practical problems in counting. At the end of 2001, there were estimated to be 22 million IDPs worldwide. Most of the issues raised in this guide are relevant to IDPs; it also includes a section covering issues specific to IDPs.
This guide focuses on forced migrants' electoral participation in the territory from which they have moved. Forced migrants' electoral participation in the new place of living is not within the scope of this article - for further information on this issue see Blais, A., Massicotte, L. and Yoshinaka, A. 'Deciding Who Has the Right to Vote: A Comparative Analysis of Election Laws', Electoral Studies, vol. 20, 2001. http://www.elsevier.com/locate/contentsdirect
Other forms of political participation, besides electoral participation, are also not the subject of this guide. Forced migrants may well be involved in actively supporting or influencing political parties, in providing independent information and media, and in lobbying and campaign activities. While all of these are important, this guide focuses on election activity as the most basic and fundamental form of political participation.
This guide does not address the electoral participation of people who have migrated as a positive choice. For more information on this, see International Migration Review, vol. 19, no. 3, Fall 1985. Special Issue: Civil Rights and the Socio-political Participation of Migrants.
Listed below are various different sources of information available on elections. Forced migration is clearly also an expanding area of research. However there is very little information available on forced migrants' electoral participation. What literature does exist is widely dispersed and is generally concerned with one particular election, rather than the issue as a whole. The only exception to this is the Participatory Elections Project (see below).
There are various possible reasons for the lack of attention to the issue. First, there may be an assumption that forced migrants are generally only a small minority whose votes would not be enough to alter the outcome of an election (therefore facilitating or analysing their participation is only of minimal importance). Second, electoral participation may be regarded as a low-priority luxury right for forced migrants who have more pressing issues to be dealing with. Such views are perhaps compounded by the lack of international standards on the issue. Third, it may be assumed that most forced migrants are not from democratic states (as democracies are generally assumed to have lower levels of repression). However, as is discussed later, 'democratic' countries have been found to have some of the highest levels of repression.
Blaug, Ricardo and Schwarzmantel, John (eds), Democracy: A Reader. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.
Brownlie, Ian and Goodwin-Gill, Guy S. (eds), Basic Documents on Human Rights, 4th edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Crick, Bernard, Democracy. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Donnelly, Jack, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. Cornell University Press, 2002. New Jersey, USA.
Goodwin-Gill, Guy S., Codes of Conduct for Elections. Inter-Parliamentary Union, 1998. Geneva, Switzerland. http://www.ipu.org/english/books.htm
Goodwin-Gill, Guy S., Free and Fair Elections. Inter-Parliamentary Union, 1994. Geneva, Switzerland. http://www.ipu.org/english/books.htm
Kumar, Krishna (ed.), Postconflict Elections, Democratization, and International Assistance. Lynne Reinner Publishers, 1998. Colorado, USA.
Potter, David, Goldblatt, David, Kiloh, Margaret, and Lewi, Paul (eds), Democratization. Polity Press, 1997. Oxford, UK.
Snyder, Jack, From Voting to Violence. W. W. Norton and Company, 2000. New York, USA.
Commonwealth and Comparative Politics http://www.frankcass.com/jnls/ccp.htm
East European Constitutional Review http://www.law.nyu.edu/eecr/volumes.html
Elections Today http://www.ifes.org/research_comm/publications.html
Electoral Studies, an International Journal http://www.elsevier.com/locate/contentsdirect
Journal of Democracy http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/
The Round Table - The Commonwealth Journal of International http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals
Third World Quarterly - Journal of Emerging Areas http://www.tandf.co.co/journals
Carter Center http://www.cartercenter.org
Commonwealth Secretariat http://www.thecommonwealth.org
Council of Europe http://www.coe.int
EuropeAid - Elections http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/europeaid/projects/eidhr/elections_en.htm
Human rights and democratization policy: http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/human_rights/doc/index.htm / http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/human_rights/doc/eidhr02_04.htm / http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/human_rights/eu_election_ass_observ/index.htm
Freedom House http://www.freedomhouse.org
International Foundation for Elections (IFES) http://www.ifes.org
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) http://www.idea.int
International Organization for Migration (IOM) http://www.iom.int
Inter-Parliamentary Union http://www.ipu.org
National Democratic Institute (NDI) http://www.ndi.org
Organization for Security in Europe (OSCE) http://www.osce.org
OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) http://www.osce.org/odihr/
Organization of American States (OAS) http://www.oas.org
Participatory Elections Project (PEP) http://www.iom.int/pep
The National Endowment for Democracy http://www.ned.org
United Nations. Electoral Assistance Division http://www.un.org/Depts/dpa/ead/eadhome.htm
The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) http://www.cses.org
http://confinder.richmond.edu/ (lists constitutions)
http://www.electionaccess.org (electoral participation for people with disabilities)
http://www.klipsan.com/elecnews.htm (news clipping service)
The Participatory Elections Project
A major source of information for this guide is the Participatory Elections Project (PEP), http://www.iom.int/pep. The project is producing a global overview of the practices, standards, and policy issues surrounding forced migration and post-conflict elections. This includes theoretical, legal, and political issues. PEP aims to frame a strategy for developing global standards to protect the political rights of refugees and IDPs in their countries and territories of origin. PEP is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and is organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Since 1996, the IOM has assisted in 74 different countries with migrants' voting.