The University of Oslo Faculty of Law collaborated with the Peace Research Institute of Oslo to bring together a fascinating group of Migration scholars. The conference began With a riveting keynote speech by Professor Maja Janmyr explaining the plight of refugee families from Syria who navigate a complex path resulting in vulnerability due the failure to attain recognition of rights on account of inability to gain documentation of protection status. This was followed by a panel further exploring vulnerability and process; highlights included a paper by Tommaso Braida of Uppsala University, who explained the absurdity of the rules regarding detention and statelessness and a paper by Sarah A. Tobin (Christian Michelsen Institute) on the unfortunate consequences of banning Hawala among Syrian refugees.
The second panel, chaired by Professor May Len Skilbrei of Oslo, tackled smuggling and trafficking and included an interesting paper by Emily Button Aguilar and Cecile Blouin of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru on the trend demonstrating failure to protect foreign victims of trafficking within South America. This was juxtaposed to Chistriano d’Orsi of the University of Johannesburg’s paper explaining the role of non-state actors in smuggling of migrants in Africa.
The third panel was organinzed by Professor Alla Pozdnakova ., chair of the International Law and Governance Research Group. It showcased reserach on migration and Law of the Sea. Peter Billings of the University of Queensland discussed “Operation Sovereign Order” and the push back of asylum seekers en route to Australia. He was followed by a Danish triad- Kristina Siig, Birgit Feldtmann, and Fenella Billing of Southern Denmark, Aalborg, and Aarhus who gave a fascinating overview of the clash between Law of the Sea rules and human rights in search and rescue operations near Libya, resulting in refoulement by merchant vessels, a ban of Medicins sans Frontiers in the SAR zone, and dilemmas in finding common solutions.
The fourth panel examined accountability issues. Yi Chao of McGill argued in favor of placing financial penalties on refugee producing countries, leaving most the audience wondering how to hold proxy states, arms dealers and security companies accountable. Marianne Nerland logically suggested that there is a need for an independent accountability mechanism to address NGO abuses in refugee camps. Marie Aronsson Storrier and Susan Breau of Reading proposed the recognition of an obligation to record the names of the dead and missing in the Mediterranean, see the Last Rights Project.
Professor Cecilia M. Bailliet gave the second keynote, addressing the need for complementary standards to the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to tackle the structural and systemic problems of racism and xenophobia affecting refugees and IDPs. She called for review of national emergency legislation addressing immigration and terrorism for identification of discriminatory effect or implementation, as well as collection of best practices including progressive case law from regional and national courts.
Jørgen Carling of PRIO, gave the last Keynote in which discussed the precariousness of not including refugees within the broader group of migrants, as it results in denial of protection to other classes of migrants. He was followed by a panel on precarity and agency in transnational lives. Bhanu Prasad and Jyoti Bania of the Tata Institute in India presented their reserach on the plight of Muslim women migrants in the Gulf countries. They were followed by a triad from Maastricht, Harres Yakubi, Vittorio Bruni, and Clara Alberola who analyzed how migrants are subject to corruption in transit. Simon Yin of Hefei, China, described the integration difficulties faced by African migrants when migrating to Guangzhou. Erlend Paasche of Oslo recounted his interviews with Nigerian Post graduates who chose to migrate in an irregular manner.
The sixth panel examined the abyss, marked by Daniel Agbiboa and Ann O. Afadam of Centre for Rights and Development, Nigeria, who told of the strategies taken by local communities to counter recruitment by Boko Haram. Next, James C. Simeon (of York U) presented a paper on jurisprudential trends regarding exclusion from asylum on the basis of complicity in terrorist crimes. Jay Johnson of UCLA gave a thought-provoking overview of the mass closures of refugee reception centers in South Africa.
Combining legal theory and issues of practical implementation Nula Frei and Constantin (Tino) Hruschka examined the procedural dimension of the obligation to assess vulnerability in the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).
That session was followed by more optimistic presentations, chaired by Beth Lyon of Cornell Law School, including Jan-Niklas Sievers on the expansion of German University legal aid clinics for asylum seekers, Jonathan Weaver and Franceso Tonnarelli of UN Habitat on new strategies for Integrated Urban design as a durable solution, Jennifer Prestholdt of the Advocates for Human Rights, on the important lessons learned from the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Diaspora Project including the importance of giving refugees a right to participation, the opporunity to express themselves and tell their story, the right to be heard, and the right to have their sense of Identity recognized. These are principles that should be upheld within the asylum processing system. Rouyba Al-Salem of McGill ended the conference by calling upon Canada to improve civic education to Syrian refugees to improve integration. The audience reflected on the difference between the situation now and the openness at the time of the Indo-Chinese exodus. Everyone agreed that it was illuminating to engage in a multi-disciplinary forum and it is hoped that Cooperation will continue in the future!