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Rethinking the Refugee Policy from an Individualistic tradition to Inclusive Communities

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The Journal on Migration and Human Security (JMHS) released a comprehensive article Friday, September 9, 2016 that explored the assumptions of the refugee policy. Specifically, rethinking the tradition of Western individualism and arguing the consideration of communities. In terms of the refugee protection system, the change in thinking would require examining how to address the needs of communities that are uprooted, as well as the needs of the communities where displaced individuals are received, rather than only focusing on individuals who cross the border and seek refugee status.

The contemporary refugee protection system is based on the values of individualism developed in the post-Enlightenment West. At its core, the tradition is a defense of the rights of the individual over social control through forceful authorities. Although, individualism has been a central practice to the Western worldview, it has led to a tendency of prioritizing the individual over against the community. Internally displaced people are almost by definition not individuals who are seeking to start new lives on their own initiatives.  Rather, they are members of a community of persons that have been attacked by groups and individuals that oppose them.

There are typically three routes to get out of refugee status: return to their native home when it is safe to do so; to be accepted for residence in the country where they sought security; or to resettle in a third country. It is imperative that the refugee policy take into account the tradition of community rather than focus on the individual family. As much as we celebrate personal initiative and the power of individualism, we must also recognize its significant limitation, including its failure to recognize the dependence of all individuals in the communities that have nurtured them and that will sustain them in the future.

The JMHS urges the need to address conflict prevention through development and peacekeeping operations. The first step being to properly identify the distinction between internally displaced persons and refugees as not only unhelpful but fundamentally misleading. The second step is to acknowledge that not only individuals and their families, but entire communities should be the focus of attention in the refugee policy deliberations. And the third step is to build attention to the communities and consider how to best incorporate displaced persons into larger communities even if they represent different ethnic and religious groups.

 

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