A Surrogate State? The Role of UNHCR in Protracted Refugee Situations
In an article published in the "New Left Review", quoted in the preceding paragraph, Jacob Stevens provides a scathing critique of UNHCR. According to his analysis, the organization's primary interest lies in its own size and status, and not in the welfare of the refugees it is mandated to protect. By pursuing these interests, the article suggests, UNHCR has been complicit in the perpetuation of refugee situations that might otherwise have been brought to a speedy and satisfactory end. The analysis presented in this paper, which focuses primarily but not exclusively on Africa, where the problem of protracted refugee problems has assumed the most serious dimensions, reaches a different conclusion.
The paper argues that humanitarian agencies in general, and UNHCR in particular, have been placed in the position of establishing and assuming responsibility for such "sprawling camps" in order to fill gaps in the international refugee regime that were not envisaged at the time of its establishment after the Second World War. It goes on to suggest that the UN's refugee agency has been limited in its ability to address the problem of protracted refugee situations, mainly because of the intractable nature of contemporary armed conflicts and the policies pursued by other actors, but also because of the other issues which the organization has chosen to prioritize and the limited amount of attention which it devoted to this issue during the 1990s. The paper concludes by examining the organization's more recent and current efforts to tackle the issue of protracted refugee situations, and identifies some of the key principles on which such efforts might most effectively be based.