Refugee diaspora organisations in the international refugee regime: motivations, modalities and implications of diaspora humanitarianism
AffiliationSchool of Social and Political Sciences
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2018 Dr. Louise Mary Olliff
This thesis explores acts of collective caring within refugee diaspora communities in Australia for forcibly displaced people in other parts of the world. This thesis asks: (1) what do refugee diaspora organisations (RDOs) in Australia do to help displaced people overseas? (2) what is distinct about refugee diaspora humanitarianism? and (3) what role does or can refugee diaspora humanitarianism play in the international refugee regime? The need to better understand acts of caring for ‘strangers in need’ is important in the context of unprecedented human displacement and the inadequacy of systemic responses to people considered ‘out of place’. The state-centric global governance architecture set up to facilitate ‘durable solutions’ to forced displacement—the international refugee regime—has increasingly failed to provide longer-term solutions for those who come under its mandate. This has resulted in a steady rise in the number of people living in protracted refugee situations and the irregularity of people moving in search of protection and failing to find it. In these contexts, the day-to-day lives of refugees are influenced by interactions with humanitarian actors who assume or are delegated responsibility for ‘governing’ in the spaces vacated by states. Yet, the international humanitarian order is also experiencing its own crises of legitimacy, resourcing and effectiveness. There is growing recognition of the need for better ways of responding to people displaced through violence, persecution and conflict to ensure they can find safety and live dignified lives. This thesis provides insight into one kind of actor (RDOs) that has hitherto been invisible in research on humanitarian responses to situations of forced displacement. To better understand refugee diaspora humanitarianism, multi-sited ethnographic research was conducted in Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and Geneva alongside interviews with representatives of 26 Australian RDOs and 14 humanitarian professionals. What this research found is that refugees resettled to Australia from diverse backgrounds commonly establish small volunteer-run organisations and mobilise resources to assist ‘their people’ in other parts of the world. RDOs undertake a range of activities: they raise money for schools and health centres, purchase wheelchairs and water pumps, send material aid, facilitate migration outcomes, and undertake systemic advocacy. They also help in ways that are non-quantifiable: strengthening social networks of care, bearing witness and offering hope. The capacity of resettled refugees to draw on transnational social networks, contextual knowledge of humanitarian situations, mobility enabled through resettlement, and (in)visibility in different contexts, makes them distinct humanitarian actors. The findings of this research suggest that collective acts of ‘caring for strangers’ (humanitarianisms) are diverse, situated and relational. By exploring the moralities and motivations that underlie acts of helping ‘familiar strangers’ among resettled refugees in Australia, this research demonstrates how people understand suffering and act in response as inextricably tied to their own histories, positionalities and relationship to those ‘in need’. In arguing this, I suggest that refugee diaspora humanitarianism is a distinct transnational practice that should be understood in its own terms, and as part of broader tapestries of care.
Keywordsdiaspora; refugee diasporas; refugees; forced displacement; humanitarianism; international refugee regime; transnationalism; anthropology of good; ethics of care; resettled refugees; refugee resettlement; diaspora humanitarianism
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