Thaier Al-Sudani / REUTERS Syrian refugees, who fled the violence back home, walk in the Domiz refugee camp in the northern Iraqi province of Dohuk, August 2013.

Imagining Refugia

Could a New Transnational Polity Help Solve the Refugee Crisis?

Over the last three years, the global north has fluctuated between welcoming and closing itself off to new waves of migration. With roughly 65 million people currently uprooted within or outside their countries, and with many of them in limbo for years at a time, policymakers are searching for solutions to the problem of mass displacement. The UN is steering the international community toward global pacts on migration and refugees due to be agreed on by the fall of 2018, but many doubt that much will come of them based on the record of similar international agreements so far. Nor is there much confidence that the current refugee architecture is up to the task: the three conventional solutions to displacement—repatriation of refugees, their local integration, or their resettlement—seem unable to work on the scale needed. Only a small proportion of the displaced find their situation resolved through such pathways: most languish in camps or are self-settled in cities in precarious and constrained circumstances for years and even decades at a time without legitimate means of making a living or leading a decent life.     

Against this background, a number of radical proposals have emerged to attempt to resolve refugee and migration challenges, including new nations, city states, and free zones. My colleague Robin Cohen and I have reviewed these and proposed an alternative: a confederal, transnational polity emerging from the connections built up by refugees, with the help of sympathizers, that we have called “Refugia.”  Unlike many of the proposals we have reviewed, we do not envisage this as an island or other bounded territory, but a linked set of territories and spaces connecting refugees into a polity that is neither a new nation state nor simply an international organization, but has some characteristics of both. The key feature of Refugia is that its different parts are connected, with mobility between them, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In our view such a transnational polity could meet

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