How the Conceptualization of Refugees Impacts Their Capacity to Fulfill Their Social and Economic Agency


By the end of 2014, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had identified 14.4 million refugees globally (UNHCR Global Trends 2014). The growth of the refugee population is an increasing concern that affects origin countries, host countries, aid organizations, and, most importantly, refugees themselves. The tendency of governments, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), aid agencies, and policymakers to conceptualize refugees through security and victimization frameworks prevents refugees from making valuable economic and social contributions. This paper argues that such frameworks inhibit refugees from enacting their agency and achieving their capabilities as human beings. The paper will evaluate the extent to which particular refugee policies prevent or enable refugees to assume agency and contribute to their community. The study will qualitatively investigate common policies regarding the legal, economic, and social integration of refugees into their host societies. This analysis will explore how these policies differ among various host countries and the impact of those differences on refugees. This study recommends a conceptual shift in the refugee aid industry from a victim paradigm to one of empowerment and acknowledgement of refugee capacity. Moreover, increased cooperation between governments, the UNHCR, NGOs, and businesses is necessary to foster the conditions under which refugees have the power to make economic and social contributions. If implemented, these policy proposals would transform the landscape of the refugee crisis by facilitating mutually beneficial rather than contentious relationships between refugees and their host countries.

Author Information
Rachel Santon, Saint Louis University, USA
Hisako Matsuo, Saint Louis University, USA

Paper Information
Conference: ACCS2016
Stream: Justice Studies

This paper is part of the ACCS2016 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon