Refugees: The Politics of Displacement


Throughout the world, millions of individuals have been forced to flee their homes due to persecution and armed conflict. The majority of these people are women and children. In fact, nearly half of the world’s refugees are children under 18 years of age. Despite the existence of international guidelines such as the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and a framework for responding to refugee emergencies, numerous challenges remain, including: how to determine who is a “bona fide” refugee; the need for burden-sharing arrangements between countries of the Global North and the Global South (which host the vast majority of refugee populations); how to safeguard and better provide for the most vulnerable groups, such as orphans and unaccompanied children, during forced migrations; and the need for global partnerships to combat smugglers and human traffickers. This yearlong service-learning course will explore the causes and consequences of forced displacement. We will also examine the assumptions and actions of governments, the donor community, the United Nations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that typically intervene on behalf of refugees. Complex ethical, legal, and policy issues will be considered, including: (1) ethical dilemmas in the provision of protection and care; (2) contrasting models of care: camp settings vs. urban refugees; (3) legal status and distinctions among refugees, asylees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and other migrants; (4) decisions about “durable solutions”—repatriation, local integration, and third-country resettlement; (5) states’ responsibilities and increasing restrictions on access to asylum; and (6) challenges that refugee migrations pose to state-centric concepts of citizenship. Students will explore the link between global refugee movements and the status of refugees and other immigrants in America through participation in individual service-learning projects in their local community.