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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .


Refugees, Rights and Realities: Evolving International Concepts and Regimes (2)
Frances Nicholoson & Patrick Twomey

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
391pp. Index. Hb.: 45.00; ISBN 0-5216-3282-X



This collection of essay is a product of a conference entitled 'Refugee Rights and Realities: Approaches to Law and Policy Reform' held in 1996. The essays are split into four parts dealing with the definition of a refugee; the role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; state responses to refugees and the evolving European Union regime. Ethnic conflict is not given any in-depth study but it is recognised throughout that in recent decades there is an increase in refugee claims arising from civil wars, communal conflict and civil disorder (34). It is claimed that one thing all refugees have in common is that they have been forced to flee as a result of persecution, human rights violations, armed conflict and civil strife (153). The past decade has shown that refugees are a direct product of ethnic conflict as dividing lines correspond to ethnic divisions (23). It is interesting that the collection, with a primarily European and UK focus, lacks any detailed treatment of the conflict in the former-Yugoslavia. One chapter deals with the Commonwealth of Independent States who face ethnic tensions, internal strife and armed conflict and other factors that have challenged the former social and ethnic fabric of society (137). The role of the UNHCR during the Yugoslav conflict is given detailed treatment in Part II, but with a concentration on the UN office and not the conflict itself. A detailed treatment of the crisis in Rwanda is given in Chapter 14, but no parallel work on Yugoslavia is presented, a substantial omission considering the Yugoslav conflict created largest European flow of refugees since WW II (185). A point that comes through clearly through all the essays is that refugees and their circumstances are a product of harm coming to individuals and groups based solely on their real or perceived status. Refugee law attempts to overcome the negative consequences of these differences by preventing harm due to one's personal characteristics or status by eliminating arbitrary discrimination. However, as the authors readily recognise, there is still a considerable way to go before we move from status to equality in the practice of day to day life (23).


Richard Burchill, University of Hull



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