In This Review

The Turbulent Decade: Confronting the Refugee Crises of the 1990s
The Turbulent Decade: Confronting the Refugee Crises of the 1990s
By Sadaka Ogata
Norton, 2005, 384 pp

Ogata, United Nations high commissioner for refugees during the 1990s, reflects on her experience in a busy decade of dealing with refugee crises. The end of the Cold War and the acceleration of globalization brought a transformation in the nature of war, unleashing massive population movements fleeing brutal civil wars and ethnic conflicts. Ogata's commission, in her narrative, was a sort of "fire brigade," and most of the book is a narrative account of the commission's struggles with four major episodes: refugee crises triggered by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Balkan wars, genocide in Rwanda, and the recent war in Afghanistan. Her central message is that humanitarian action is always inherently inadequate. Solutions to the conflicts that generate refugee crises require concerted humanitarian, political, and security actions by global and regional powers--and such responses depend on what is often elusive: a convergence of strategic interests among key states. Ogata thus offers valuable insights into the workings of an overburdened international agency that struggles with the consequences of political conflict--but is unable to do anything about its causes.