Refugees as Protagonists: combatting restrictive national asylum and refugee policies through a new representation of the refugee
As the UN agency charged with the protection of refugees and asylum seekers around the world, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has always had almost exclusive control over the representation refugees in the international regime. Over the past decade however, the UNHCR has had little success in countering negative representations of refugees in national rhetoric and increasingly restrictive refugee and asylum policies being adopted by countries. In the name of protecting their borders, governments around the world are adopting restrictive national refugee and asylum policies that broaden grounds for the detention of asylum seekers, frequently use extradition as a security measure, and reduce family reunion and welfare benefit rights for refugees. Within this global context, the UNHCR finds the fulfilment of its mandate for protection impeded. Through an historical exploration of such evolving UNHCR representations of the ‘Homo Sacer’ and ‘Self-Reliant’ refugee, and the impact of these representations on domestic refugee policies, this paper will argue that a new conception of the Refugee, developed and promoted by the UNHCR, is needed to counter restrictive policies founded on fear and exclusion. The final section of this paper suggests a new representation of the refugee as a ‘Protagonist’, as a reservoir of human capacity, will serve both to counter restrictive trends in national asylum policies and to inspire the continued support of the international community for refugee issues.