My research connects normative debates on forced migration, humanitarianism and human rights with critical empirical analyses of efforts to protect refugees, resolve displacement and redress abuses. My research examines refugee movements across borders, as well as the complex predicament of those uprooted within their own countries, known as “internally displaced persons” (IDPs). While my work predominantly focuses on conflict contexts, I also have a growing interest in natural disasters. Some of my current projects are described below.
The right of return: Origins, evolution and scope of an international norm
In theory, refugee crises are resolved through three “durable solutions”: voluntary repatriation, local integration in the country of asylum, and resettlement to third countries. Since the end of the Cold War, voluntary repatriation has emerged as the predominant solution to displacement in the context of the international refugee regime. I am conducting a systematic analysis of the normative principle at the root of repatriation movements: the right of return. The right of return is a fundamental concept in the modern human rights and refugee regimes, but is also the subject of intense public debate, particularly in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Calls for the right of return have been issued by displaced persons determined to regain their lost homes, as well as by reluctant host states and overstretched humanitarian agencies seeking to legitimize the closure of camps and return movements that fall short of international law. Yet there is a striking absence of literature that examines the roots, evolution and contemporary political and ethical implications of this principle. Much of the research on the right of return focuses on the Palestinian refugees, overlooking the principle’s influence in a much wider range of cases. In response to this gap, I am completing a manuscript that examines the origins, evolution and scope of the right of return. The manuscript is informed by fieldwork I have conducted on returns in Sri Lanka and post-Katrina New Orleans, as well as by archival research at UNHCR on the return movement of Salvadoran refugees in the 1980s.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and humanitarian action
While the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has been extensively analyzed, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) remains surprisingly understudied although it is now amongst the largest international organizations active in the humanitarian sector. Established in 1951, IOM was not part of the UN system until 2016, but has worked closely with it. IOM has dramatically expanded since the 1990s, with the majority of its growth driven by its increased involvement in humanitarian emergencies in the global South. These activities have significant, complex effects on purported “beneficiaries,” states, and global governance of migration and humanitarianism. IOM’s evolution also sheds light on important questions in international relations on the nature and behaviour of international organizations. In this project, I am drawing on interviews with IOM and member state officials, human rights advocates and humanitarians working with UN agencies and NGOs to inform a book manuscript and a series of articles on IOM’s evolution and influence, focusing in particular on the humanitarian sector and implications for migrants’ rights.
Seeking justice after disasters
In recent decades, the pursuit of accountability for massive human rights violations has emerged as a key concern in global politics. At the same time, the severity of natural disasters has increased dramatically. While disasters inevitably entail losses, many are also characterized by grave injustices. For example, post-disaster assistance may be inadequate, discriminatory, or non-existent, as in the case of Cyclone Nargis in Burma, where the regime purposefully denied its citizens life-saving aid. Although disasters are often the site of systematic violations and can catalyze major transitions, grave injustices associated with disasters have rarely been addressed through transitional justice processes, and few have questioned this exclusion. Accordingly, I am examining the relationship between natural disasters and transitional justice. The first article from this project, entitled “More than Misfortune – Natural Disasters and Transitional Justice,” appeared in the International Journal of Transitional Justice in 2017.