The Canadian Committee on Migration, Ethnicity and Transnationalism is putting together a panel on 20th century refugees for the 2010 CHA Conference in Montreal (May 2010, http://www.cha-shc.ca) and we are looking for other panelists interested in refugees and forced migration issues in the postwar period.
The current working title for the panel is “Political Refugees and the Politics of Refugees,” and our proposed papers consider the historical contexts in which a politicized language and practice of refugees as international subjects shaped peoples lives. We are especially interested in the moments at which particular people became identified as refugees and the impact this had on their opportunities for repatriation, international resettlement and other forms of support, as well as for individual and group subjectivity.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there were 42 million forcibly displaced people around the world in 2008. Such a statistic gives rise to many questions: How should we understand this large number? Is its tabulation the result of particular historical and political circumstances? What is the significance of categories such as political refugee and internally displaced person? How do such labels affect state policies towards resettlement in the present day and historically? And what impact, if any, do the policies of national and international organizations, have on individuals who are trying to flee difficult circumstances?
The two papers proposed to date consider refugee resettlement and repatriation in Asia after the Second World War with a focus on institutional responses to mass population movements.
Tina Chen (University of Manitoba) will be looking at issues surrounding the repatriation of Chinese who left Burma during the Japanese occupation, some of whom went to refugee camps on the Indian side of the border, others who went to China. The end of the war coincides with the coming independence of Burma from British colonial rule, various Asian nationalisms, and the establishment of the UN and its involvement in the movement of people (and designation of refugee status). Tina’s paper explores the ways in which the different institutions responsible for negotiating return of Chinese to Burma tended to default to: (a) economic arguments, such as arguments over who would pay for transportation and an 'after the fact' obsession of tallying who owes how much to whom; and (b) bureaucratic definitions of when and how a person becomes a refugee that had embedded within them assumptions about patriotism, borders, and movement. Tina's paper seeks to explore the cases on the margins that national and international institutions found unsettling because they could not be accounted for in these terms, and thus they revealed then (and now) the inherent instability of being a 'refugee' and the political stakes for nations and international organizations in the continuous articulation (and re-articulation) of the categories and their boundaries.
Laura Madokoro (University of British Columbia) will examine the Canadian perspective of the 700,000 Chinese who fled to Hong Kong after the creation the People’s Republic of China (1949) in 1949 against the backdrop of Canada’s failure to establish official diplomatic relations with the PRC until 1970. Laura’s paper will examine how a nascent international refugee regime and the politics of recognizing Communist China affected the government’s view of the refugees and influenced their view of the population pressures this movement placed on the Crown colony of Hong Kong. At the same time, this paper will highlight how undesirable Canada was as a place of resettlement and consider the enduring effects of Canada’s anti-Chinese immigration laws on migrants leaving Communist China in 1949.
Papers dealing with similar geographic or temporal subjects are welcomed as is work on refugees and forced migration in the context of Cold War politics, decolonization, nationalism, gender, human rights and individual agency in the face of the historic establishment of bureaucratic institutions that have come to govern refugee status internationally. It would be great if we could draw attention to inconsistencies in the priorities states and organizations identify vis-à-vis refugee movements and those of the
migrants themselves. It would also be really interesting if we could trace similarities and differences in how the concept of a refugee has evolved globally and whether we can make any distinctions between how refugees were first conceptualized in the immediate postwar period with how they are now understood, and the changing political positions served by those either labeled as refugees or who work on behalf of refugees.
If you are interested in participating in this panel, please send a title and short paper abstract to Laura Madokoro at firstname.lastname@example.org by October 15, 2009.
On a related note, at the 2009 CHA Conference in Ottawa, a group of scholars working on migration topics established the Canadian Committee on Migration, Ethnicity and Transnationalism (CHA Approval pending). CCMET was established to foster and promote the historical study of migration, ethnicity and transnational issues, and to facilitate collaboration in the field and sponsor sessions at CHA and other appropriate meetings. CCMET’s discussion group provides the foundation for a network of scholars working on all aspects of migration history to exchange information and share resources to advance migration scholarship in Canada. If you are interested in joining CCMET please contact Lisa Chilton (President) at email@example.com for more information.
Department of History, University of British Columbia Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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