Brock University

Refugees: Rights and Rightlessness

Albeit refugee experiences are often different than economic immigrant experiences, the examination of refugee-specific issues is often neglected in larger immigration, multiculturalism, and integration debates. Yet, understanding refugee experiences can provide critical insights into the consequences of broader immigration and integration policies and programs. This session seeks to rectify this through bringing attention to the differential refugee experiences.

This session highlights research in the area refugee children and youth, “illegal” identities and resistance, as well as national and transnational refugee policies and guidelines. The papers presented at this session are both geographically and thematically diverse. Together, they explore the most prominent themes in the scholarship and draw attention to issues of "illegality" and refugeeness in diverse geographies. From identity formation to critiques of responses to the global rise in displacement, the papers provide a critical perspective on refugees, their purported rights in the context of their statelessness, and their exceptional state of rightlessness.

Session Organizer: Secil Erdogan-Ertorer, York University, ; Azar Masoumi, York University, ; Ishrat Sultana, York University,


Rules for Deciding Who to Keep: The Discretionary Power and Variability in Conceptions of Childhood in Canada’s Refugee Guidelines for Children

Dale Ballucci, University of New Brunswick Department of Sociology Law in Society coordinator,

In Canada, cases dealing with unaccompanied or separated children applying for refugee status are adjudicated by a tribunal, who apply guidelines that outline particular procedural and evidentiary issues to consider in these specialty cases. Canada is one of the first countries to implement guidelines to deal with this vulnerable group. As a signatory of the United Nations, these guidelines aim to protect and ensure the best interest of the child. In this paper, I analyze these guidelines. I found the language and provisions in this document reflect various conceptions of (western) childhood. The extent to which the guidelines reflect the notions of both the responsible and accountable child provides both an avenue for Immigration and Refugee officers to justify almost any legal decision, and results in the inability to provide a clear interpretive framework for adjudicating cases.  This paper highlights the role of conceptions of childhood in contributing to the unpredictable outcome of unaccompanied refugee child claims. Lastly, I show that not only are there multiple conceptions of childhood imbedded in these guidelines, but also that such variety actually creates more opportunities for discretion and arguably jeopardizes children’s rights rather than offering extended protection.


Problematizing Refugee Resettlement and Integration Experiences in Canada

Secil Erdogan-Ertorer, York University,

Canada offers permanent resettlement to refugees who live in refugee camps in different parts of the world through its Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program. Some refugee groups are sponsored by the government while some are sponsored by private organizations. This paper aims to identify problems experienced by government assistant refugees during the resettlement and integration process. The arguments are derived from ethnographic observations and interviews with Karen refugees from Burma and provides comparisons across time (at time of resettlement and post-resettlement) and refugee groups (government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees). The experiences of government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees vary, even when all members are coming from the same refugee camp within the same time frame. I argue that this situation creates disparities in income and social capital among refugee communities. The paper intents to provide critical insights into the implementation and consequences of Canadian Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement program.


Rohingya refugees: Rootless identities, statelessness and access to services

Ishrat Sultana, York University,

My paper examines how Rohingya refugees access to services in the refugee camp in Bangladesh by virtue of their statelessness. Rohingya, an ethnic racial group, have been persecuted in their homeland (Burma) and denied adequate protection in the host country (Bangladesh) since 1978, and thus denied citizenship (Ullah, 2011). “There are presently 25,045 registered Rohingya residing in two camps at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh” (June 17, 2013). In contrast to a Bangladeshi citizen who enjoys voting rights at the age of 18, a 19-year-old Rohingya’s words indicate how his identity is questioned: “I was born in Burma, but the Burmese government says I don’t belong there. I grew up in Bangladesh, but the Bangladesh government says I cannot stay here” (Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland, 2002, p. 8). In this context, my paper explores: first, how do Rohingya refugees look at their statelessness, and has living in Bangladesh made them feel like ‘Bangladeshi’ or do they still consider them ‘Burmese’? Second, how does the statelessness of Rohingyas challenge their access to services, such as their living, health, education, and livelihoods? And third, to what extent are the youth – especially many of whom born and raised in Bangladesh – eligible to obtain Bangladeshi citizenship?


UNHCR and Protracted Refugee Situations: Empowering Refugees in Uganda’s Nakivale Settlement?

Marcia Oliver, Assistant Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University - Brantford, Law and Society   , , Suzan Ilcan, Professor, University of Waterloo, Department of Sociology and Legal Studies, and Balsillie School of International Affairs , , Laura Connoy, PhD student, University of Waterloo, Department of Sociology and Legal Studies ,

Approximately 50 million persons from around the world are inhabitants of abject spaces and are qualified by the UNHCR as victims of forced displacement. Moreover, the increasing unwillingness of governments to provide asylum to refugees has led to the encampment of refugees in many protracted refugee situations. These populations face a number of specific economic, sociocultural, and political challenges. This paper focuses on recent attempts made by the UNHCR to address the protracted refugee situation in Uganda, specifically in southwestern Uganda’s Nakivale refugee settlement. Drawing on official policy documents, press releases, NGO position papers, and secondary research on the experiences of refugees in Uganda, we argue that the UNHCR’s humanitarian interventions in Nakivale both reflect and reinforce decontextualized solutions to protracted refugee situations. These situations, we suggest, violate international human rights standards and contribute to the continued marginality and precarity of life for thousands of refugees. The paper concludes with an emphasis on recognizing refugees as political actors who resist some forms of humanitarian intervention and are engaged in struggles to claim human rights and change their conditions of living.


© Canadian Sociological Association ⁄ La Société canadienne de sociologie