Review of the conclusion by Melina Duarte

In previous contributions to the GMR reading group on Parekh’s insightful book, Refugees and the Ethics of Forced Displacement, Juha Räikkä and Sini Paakkinen, Sune Lægaard, Patti Lenard, Nadim Khouri, and Andreas Føllesdal presented their readings and brought up several interesting questions for debate. Räikka and Paakkinen opened the reading group with a concise review of the introduction in which the thesis and methodology were laid out. According to them, Parekh primarily aims to reveal the moral problems of encampment as a de facto solution to forced displacement. Lægaard introduced chapter 1, in which Parekh provided an overview of encampment’s role within the existing refugee regime and criticized some of the ways encampment has been justified. While Lægaard felt that Parekh successfully shows how the current refugee regime endorses practices of encampment that lead to moral violations of refugees, it was less clear to him that the endorsement of such practices necessarily leads to endorsement of values. It could be, as he points out, that the problem is not encampment itself, but the way that it is currently implemented.  After Læggard, Lenard discussed chapter 2. According to her, Parekh’s concern in this chapter is to introduce an ‘ethics of the temporary’ in order to detach herself from an ‘ethics of admissions’ that focuses on the need for more permanent solutions for refugees. Lenard wondered what an ‘ethics of the temporary’ would finally entail. Would an ‘ethics of the temporary’ also imply ‘temporary solutions’? Khouri followed, presenting chapter 3 where Parekh applies Arendt’s concept of ontological deprivation to current circumstances. Khouri outlined three ways that encampment promotes an ontological loss for refugees—(1) loss of identity and reduction to bare life, (2) expulsion from common humanity, and (3) loss of agency. Taking issue with the third way, Khouri suggests that Parekh’s understanding of ‘political agency’ might be too demanding for two reasons. First, her conception of political agency seems to necessarily imply ‘active’ political participation. Second, the political violence suffered by refugees would also count as a form of agency in terms of a politics of alterity. The last chapter on the responsibilities for the forcibly displaced was taken up by Føllesdal. In this chapter, Parekh defends a remedial view of responsibility that focuses on the harm rather than on the cause. What is at stake in this chapter is determining who is responsible for fixing the problems generated by encampment independently of questions of intentionality. For her, refugees are being harmed by such practices and responsibility for fixing the problems fall to those with the power to prevent the harm from happening. According to Parekh, Western states have the power to prevent the harm and, as such, they should bear most of the responsibility. This is because, she argues, these states have, “dominated the global refugee regime in terms of creating global covenants, defining practices, and funding various institutions” (p.10). Føllesdal, however, did not seem entirely convinced by this claim. It was not clear to him why, for example, states funding the UNCHR would have more power than those states who have opted out of supporting this institution, nor why only Western states would be able to engage in collective action or benefit from the global economy. All these questions help enrich further debate.

My job now is to present a view of her conclusion. The conclusion recalls Shire’s poem Home. Contrary to what one typically expects from a poem, the words are dry and verses are not imaginative nor elaborate representations of feelings. The poem is rather a crude and disturbing assemblage of sentences that describe horrifying scenes lived by migrants from the time they are forced out of their homes to their reception in the destination countries. “Go home black…dirty immigrants…messed up their country and now they want to mess ours up” (p.137). These sentences are not artistic creation, but the naked reality.  They are what is in the mouth and mind of many people in the destination countries. The poem intends to capture the agony that simple numbers and abstract representation of refugees often hide. It is meant to highlight the fact that, when fleeing, they do not have a reasonable alternative: “the words are more tender than fourteen men between your legs or the insults are easier to swallow than…your child body in pieces” (p.138).

Shire’s poem is a brutal call for humanity regarding the treatment of refugees. It reminds us that refugees are people with stories, identities, and feelings. As such, the poem nicely illustrates what I take to be the main contribution of Parekh’s book: a moral philosophical account of forced displacement that captures a nuanced view of the injustices refugees suffer while being between states by accounting for their personal experiences of violence during encampment. Her aim is not to offer practical solutions for their suffering, but rather to denounce problems associated with the current “solution” of encampment. Such a denouncement is, however, strong enough to generate a call for substantial changes in the current refugee regime, particularly regarding encampment practices or, more than that, to show that we have a moral responsibility to promote such changes. The issue I take with her thesis is that she does not go the whole way by calling for the complete abolition of refugee camps. Not having done so might have brought some inconsistencies to her thesis. Despite having convincingly criticized the very concept of encampment, and not only its form of implementation, Parekh steps back by saying that encampment could be acceptable if it undergoes deep reforms designed to preserve the dignity of the refugees (see p.137). These reforms, however, do not seem to be achievable using her standards because it is not only a question of preventing, for example, rape in the camps, but also a question of recognizing rights that are by default put on hold in refugee camps. Whether for a single day or for twenty years, encampment will represent to the refugees an ontological deprivation and this, in my view, could only be solved through resettlement and integration. In this regard, I fail to see how an ‘ethics of the temporary’ would be able to restore the ontological loss refugees experience while confined in camps against their will. Would perhaps an ‘ethics of international mobility’ promote such a restoration? Could it respond to growing global challenges of displacement and diffuse categories beyond ‘home’ and ‘host’ countries, seeking to set the terms so that people could move across borders with dignity and forge new homes, new stories, new lives wherever they go? For as naïve as this might sound within the realm of non-ideal theory, I believe that the actual circumstances brought up by the current refugee regime require us to be morally bolder in our claims.

Finally, as the organizer of the reading group, I would like to thank everyone for their participation. I especially would like to thank Magnus for stepping in while I was on leave and Serena for bringing her impressive and thought-provoking book to our attention. I hope the reading group will help move this most pressing debate on forced displacement forward and inspire us all in our future work.

One response to “Review of the conclusion by Melina Duarte”

  1. Serena Parekh says:

    Thank you to Melina for the nice summary of all the reviews so far and I really appreciate her call to be morally bolder regarding refugees! She is right that I shy away from calling for the abolition of refugee camps. Though I do agree that the abolition of camps and the integration of refugees with full economic and political rights would be the ideal, I opted to argue for the milder claim of reformation instead. This was in part because even people critical of the refugee regime acknowledge that camps are at least sometimes necessary for distributing aid in the wake of an emergency. Even international human rights law allows for the suspension of some derogable human rights in times of emergency. But what I hoped to have argued for in the book is that when the “emergency” period transforms into everyday life and camps become more like cities, we should not tolerate the suspension of human rights. If the international community is unwilling to come up with a more just solution than camps, they ought to at the very least be reformed so that they protect basic rights, dignity and agency, and allow for some kind of economic participation. Though perhaps not bold enough, my goal in this book was to shift people’s thinking about the way we treat refugees during their displacement and get people to acknowledge that the current status quo is by and large unjust and in need of reform.

    Let me just reiterate my deepest thanks to the organizers of this forum, Melina and Magnus, for all their efforts, and to the reviewers for taking the time to read my book and respond so thoughtfully. It is really an honor to have my work taken so seriously by you and I am deeply grateful.

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