Tag Archives resettlement

EADI/ISS Series | Solidarity for People Displaced by Large-Scale Investment Projects

By Kei Otsuki and Griet Steel

Since the 1980s, international organizations and financiers have created sophisticated  guidelines on involuntary resettlement procedures. They have relied on public consultation to build consent in order to establish resettlement projects as an effective, common, and sustainable solution to displacement. But the focus on pre-resettlement consultations has largely neglected the importance of follow-up processes when resettled people start facing difficulties to live their everyday life. How can we, development researchers and practitioners, engage with the long-term effects of resettlement and its potential pathways towards sustainable development?

“VIVER É DIFICIL (Living is difficult)” reads the slogan on a water tank set up next to a typical concrete resettlement house in Mozambique (Photo). A plastic water pipe connects the water tank to a gutter, placed under the corrugated zinc roof, designed to facilitate the harvest of rainwater. In this semi-arid part of Africa, however, rain is increasingly scarce. “God stopped the rain”, says the owner of this house, David, who also wrote the slogan on his water tank.

The difficulties David is facing are, however, not only caused by the lack of rain. He is one of the resettlers who were displaced from the Limpopo National Park in south-western Mozambique in 2013. These people had agreed to be displaced and resettled on the promise that they would have a better and modern life in the resettlement village built for them. The Park administration, sponsored by the German Development Bank and the South African Peace Park Foundation, had claimed that it needed to invest in wildlife-based ecotourism without human presence for the greater sustainable and economic development in the region.

Living in the National Park, David has had his own hut and independent huts for his two wives and their children. In the resettlement village outside the Park, his household of more than 10 members crams into one small concrete house with only two rooms. What’s more, the Park administration had promised to donate water pumps to the resettles to irrigate their new collective farm. However, since the pumps were delivered at the village leader’s house 5 years ago, they never got connected.

Considering these drawbacks, you would not expect that, before the resettlement took place, David and his fellow community members had actively participated in public consultations with the resettlement officers from the Park administration and local governmental officials for almost a decade. They had discussed and built consent on housing, irrigation, and water pumps. Yet, after their resettlement was completed and new life started, new situations unfolded and the new living conditions remained difficult.

Internalising Follow-Up Processes

This is not unique to the particular case of David’s resettlement village. Since the 1980s, international organizations and financiers – development banks, in particular – have created sophisticated involuntary resettlement guidelines, and relied on public consultation to build consent in order to establish resettlement projects as an effective, common, and sustainable solution to displacement. But, as David’s case exemplifies, the focus on pre-resettlement consultations has largely neglected the importance of follow-up processes when resettled people start facing difficulties to live their everyday life.

As debates on mining-induced displacement and resettlement show, the core of the problem lies in the externalization of the cost of displacement and resettlement. Displacement and resettlement are treated as side effects with limited budgets allocated for compensation. It is vital instead to envision how resettlement projects could be firmly internalized in the core business of investment projects. Projects should allocate substantial financial and human resources for following-up on the resettlements’ sustainable development.

How can we, as development researchers and practitioners, engage with the long-term effects of resettlement?

At the upcoming EADI-ISS International Conference, we propose a panel in which colleagues working on different cases of displacement and resettlement can share their insights and perspectives about the processes through which resettlement projects evolve, develop and perhaps create chains of displacement effects and grievances over time. These unfolding realities in post-resettlement contexts cannot be fully planned and agreed upon in consultations. For example, in David’s case, the resettlers are in constant negotiations with their host community to negotiate land for cultivation or sharing basic infrastructure such as water boreholes. Yet, we know little about effects of such unfolding interactions for the overall sense of justice and sustainability.

At the same time, there might be cases that positively shape cooperation and solidarity through post-resettlement interactions. In any case, one question remains: How can we, development researchers and practitioners, engage with the long-term effects of resettlement and its potential pathways towards sustainable development?

The understanding of solidarity is vital – in these contested frontiers of displacement and resettlement in both rural and urban areas. We thus call for papers that delve deeper into the lived experiences of resettled populations, such as David’s, to deepen our understanding of what solidarity means in different cases of displacement and resettlement. In addition, we are interested in discussing methodological issues pertaining to our responsibilities of doing research on such contentious issues.

This article is part of a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.

About the authors:

Kei pasfoto.jpg

Kei Otsuki  is a sociologist/geographer specialized in sustainable development in Latin America (esp. Brazil) and Africa (esp. Ghana, Mozambique) as well as in Japan. She holds a PhD in development sociology from Wageningen University and MSc and BA degrees from the University of Tokyo. Her research interests center on equitable and sustainable development, environmental justice, and remaking of communities and geopolitics, especially regarding investment-induced displacement and resettlement on resource frontiers.Griet-640x427.jpg

Griet Steel is an assistant professor in International Development Studies at the Department of Human Geography and Planning. She is an anthropologist by training and has been involved in several international research projects addressing the interplay between gender, technology, land and mobility and the broader challenges of sustainable urban development.


Between resilience and vulnerability: the dilemma of refugee resettlement by Mahardhika Sjamsoe’oed Sadjad

Many of the 25.4 million refugees worldwide are living a life in limbo, forced to face a grave dilemma due to the uncertainty of resettlement: while living a life in transit seems to make them more resilient, this could undermine their chances of being resettled. Based on observations while doing research and working with refugees in Cisarua, Indonesia, this article argues that vulnerability and resilience are actually two sides of the same coin.

When we entered the new year of 2019, many of us gave meaning to this annual change in our Gregorian calendars through new resolutions, resolved disappointments, and exciting future plans. For many of the 25.4 million refugees worldwide, however, the passing of a new year marked more time waiting in limbo. This is certainly the case for most of the estimated 13,840 foreign refugees (UNHCR 2017) currently living in Indonesia, the majority of which come from Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Somalia.

This article wishes to highlight the dilemma many refugees are forced to face due to the increasing uncertainty of resettlement. Many refugees I spoke to felt that their resilience to survive a life of indefinite transit, could undermine their chances of getting resettled. I became aware of this dilemma while spending some months in 2018, working with and doing ethnographic research on the reception of refugees in both Cisarua and Jakarta, Indonesia. While my study focuses on the reactions and responses of Indonesian host communities, it also involved volunteering at the Refugee Learning Centre (RLC) in Cisarua. This article is written based on some of my conversations and observations during this experience.

Not-so-temporary refuge in Indonesia

For most refugees I spoke to, life in Indonesia is often described with a sense of temporariness, a point of transit before being resettled. “If no one comes any more to Indonesia and the number of places for resettlement remain the same, UNHCR will need up to 25 years to resettle everyone,” said a staff member of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at an information session on 27 April 2018, at RLC in Cisarua. She emphasised again: “If no one else comes, but people are still coming”. Refugees were informed that resettlement opportunities to a third country have become increasingly unavailable and that it is not a right every refugee is entitled to. However, when both voluntary repatriation and local integration are not available options for most refugees living in Indonesia, many still see resettlement as their only means to a life of peace.

During this information session, the UNHCR staff member also explained that they will need to prioritise resettlement for refugees deemed most vulnerable. While all refugees are vulnerable, if only by virtue of the traumas they carry and their precarious legal status in host countries like Indonesia, resettlement opportunities prioritise the most vulnerable among the vulnerable[1]. Unaccompanied minors, people with disabilities and health concerns, survivors of torture and violence, and other groups at risk are meant to get to the top of the ‘priority list’ for resettlement. Considering how countries around the world are increasingly closing their borders to refugees, this need to prioritise is understandable.

However, it also has unintended consequences. When the vulnerable become the deserving, many refugees are forced to face a dilemma between resilience and vulnerability.

Between resilience and vulnerability

Refugees I’ve talked to have expressed concerns that displaying an ‘active’ life in Indonesia might be interpreted as a display of resilience, which might push them down the ‘priority list’ for resettlement. “We need to be active to survive this period of waiting in Indonesia. But if we’re active we aren’t seen as vulnerable, and if we aren’t vulnerable, we can’t get resettled,” said a refugee I spoke to in Cisarua. A manager at RLC in Cisarua where I volunteered told me that some parents even blame the success of refugee-run learning centres for the decrease of resettlement opportunities.

Utas (2005, 408) criticises the portrayal of agency and victimhood as oppositional, and instead uses victimcy to discuss Liberian women’s self-representation as victims of war as means for the social navigation of war zones. Similarly, for refugees, vulnerability can become a tool to navigate resettlement opportunities. Since so much depends on refugees’ narratives of insecurity, the ability to assert one’s vulnerability becomes a means to create space for negotiation (Jansen 2008, 584). However, as the waiting period for resettlement is extended indefinitely, refugees must simultaneously navigate a life of seemingly endless ‘transit’.

One evening, I was invited to dinner by a friend who is also a refugee in Cisarua. His mother showed me with pride her homemade yoghurt and bread – two foods not common in an Indonesian kitchen. According to my friend, refugee women in Cisarua had learned of a local Indonesian blacksmith that could build a similar oven as they used back home to bake bread. In the case of refugees in Cisarua, there is agency in the building of communities with learning centres, networks of shops with spices and foods, and religious holiday rituals that remind them of where they came from.

If refugees’ families are slowly adjusting to life in transit despite the lack of access to formal education and livelihood, will they still be considered for resettlement? The UNHCR has responded to questions such as these by saying that the two are unrelated. When I mentioned this to several refugees at RLC, those I spoke to were unconvinced. One argued it would be impossible to really know why one family gets resettled while another doesn’t, since these decisions are made behind closed doors. When those who don’t get to the top of the priority list may never get resettled and are at risk of being stranded indefinitely, it is easy to empathise with refugees feeling discouraged.

Two sides of the same coin

How refugees are portrayed also influence the reception they receive from local host communities. “Is it true that refugees don’t have to work and still get money?” an angkot[2] driver asked me. A seller at a food stall in Cisarua once commented, “The refugees here aren’t like the ones I see in the news. They are better off than us.”

Most Indonesians I talked to are not aware that many refugees live independently, trying to make the funds they have last as long as possible during their time in transit. While some groups of refugees have escaped structural oppressions that prevented them from obtaining any education and employment, others who escaped conflicts and persecution may have lost their degrees and certificates along the way. Framing refugees’ lives through one-dimensional narratives of vulnerability and victimhood easily leads to misunderstandings, unwarranted suspicions, and prejudices.

Waiting for resettlement is not a passive endeavour. One needs to stay consistently motivated to fill the days and not fall into the depths of depression. RLC is constantly buzzing with activities that refugees organise for themselves: futsal practice and tournaments, GED preparation courses for young people, teaching workshops for teachers, language courses for adults. If there is one lesson to learn from friends at RLC, it is that vulnerability and resilience are not two opposite sides of a spectrum. Instead, they are two sides of the same coin. Demonstrating resilience doesn’t suggest an absence of vulnerability, and surviving a life of vulnerabilities can only be done with a great dose of resilience.

[1] The conversations and presentations I observed during my fieldwork presented refugee resettlement to third countries on the basis of vulnerability. However, it is necessary to acknowledge that countries have different resettlement preferences and resettlement can be granted on the basis of vulnerability and on the basis of merit (Hilhorst and Jansen 2010, 1126-1127).

[2] Local public transportation in the form of small minivans

Hilhorst, Dorothea and Bram J. Jansen (2010) “Humanitarian Space as Arena: A Perspective on the Everyday Politics of Aid,” Development and Change, 41(6): 1117–1139.
Jansen, B. J. (2008) “Between Vulnerability and Assertiveness : Negotiating Resettlement in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya,” African Affairs, 107(429), pp. 569–588.
UNHCR (2017) “2017 Year-end Report: Operation: Indonesia’ (A webpage of UNHCR). Accessed 14 January 2019 http://reporting.unhcr.org/sites/default/files/pdfsummaries/GR2017-Indonesia-eng.pdf
Utas, M. (2005) “Victimcy, Girlfriending, Soldiering: Tactic Agency in a Young Woman’s Social Navigation of the Liberian War Zone,” Anthropological Quarterly, 78(2), pp. 403–430.

About the author:

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Mahardhika Sjamsoe’oed Sadjad is a PhD researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies. Her research analyses identity discourses in refugee reception in Indonesia. This article was inspired by conversations she had with Abdullah Sarwari, the Principal of the Refugee Learning Centre and a refugee currently living in Cisarua.