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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .


Kosovo's Refugees in the European Union
Joanne van Selm (ed.),

London: Pinter, Continuum Publishing, 2000
245pp. Index. Hb.: 50.00; ISBN 1-85567-640-0. Pb.: 15.99; ISBN 1-85567-641-9.



The focus of this book is the EU response to the refugee crisis created by the war in Kosovo. The various chapters describe and analyse the approaches which a selection of EU governments took towards the displaced of Kosovo. The seven case studies discussed in the book are; Germany, The Netherlands, The UK, Sweden, Austria, Italy and France.

The discussion is placed within the context of both domestic policies and European Integration. It examines the EU member states' approach to protection of Kosovars both as a step in a process of altered political thought on the need and means of refugee protection, and as a step on the way to an EU common approach to this subject.

The book seeks to describe and analyse what they refer to as the vacillation of EU member states concerning the management of this European refugee crisis. It also reflects on the stance of the respective EU state with regard to issues such as; their reputation with regard to asylum and immigration policies generally; approaches to the matter of "solidarity" or "burden-sharing" at the EU level as a tool for accomplishing a common approach; geographical spread with regard to proximity to the Balkan region; and stances on NATO intervention and involvement in that intervention

The seven chapters to some extent vary in approach and in focus, but are all built around four main themes;
The lessons of the reception and statuses accorded to Bosnian refugees and how it was drawn on in dealing with the displacement of Kosovars.
The national debates on asylum and immigration within which the crisis found a place and which influence policy-making
Wider theoretical issues related to the issues discussed
The way EU integration (or not) on the subject is impacting policy-making in the different states.

The discussions throughout the book build upon the assumption that the EU countries have a responsibility to protect and accept refugees in times of crises.

This book is valuable to anybody who is interested in questions surrounding migration and the acceptance of refugees within the EU. The different chapters bring to attention both the difference in the approach taken within each EU member states towards the reception of asylum-seekers in general, as well as the effect this had on their dealing with the Kosovar refugee crisis. A recurring issue in every chapter is the fact that although the Bosnian experience had challenged existing policies towards refugees, and in a number of cases led to legal changes regarding their status, few states were ready to deal with the crisis created by the massive displacement of refugees from Kosovo during the spring of 1999. The book clearly demonstrates the lack of a co-ordinated European approach towards such crises, and highlights the problems surrounding the status granted to refugees. While the majority of the displaced from the war in Kosovo would qualify under the definition of a refugee in the 1951 Geneva Convention, most countries introduced a temporary status. This raises a lot of questions about whether status was defined according to political criteria, with focus on the security need of the receiving state, or humanitarian criteria, safeguarding the rights of the displaced person.

The discussion in the book raises more issues than it answers. This is perhaps not strange, since it was published in 1999, while the long-term implications of the Kosovo refugee crisis still remained unclear. The focus is very much on the reception of the Kosovar refugees, and less so on long-term concerns such as repatriation and/or integration. The issues that are raised, however, are crucial not only to the manner in which the EU member states are dealing with this particular crisis, but also towards their handling of similar mass displacements of people in the future, and towards the creation of a more co-ordinated European approach to questions surrounding migration.

Although each chapter offers a slightly different approach to the main themes under discussion in the book, the collection of papers works quite well, and appears coherent. The book could have gained from offering a clearer definition of its use of the word refugee and alternative terms applied to define the displaced people under discussion. Despite the fact that the status accorded to people seeking protection within EU states is one of the main themes in the book, some of the authors qualify their use of the word refugee by referring to Bosnian 'refugees' and Kosovar 'refugees', without explaining why they do so. In doing this, they fail to explain to the reader how they define a refugee in a more general sense, as well as why they qualify the use of the term in relation to the above mentioned groups.


Hilde Haug



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