The Colonial Legacies and Contemporary Failings of the International Refugee Regime in the Shami Region


  • Hera Jay Brown The University of Tennessee, Knoxville


Note: This article has been removed at the author's request due to formatting errors in the Arabic text.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently announced that an "unprecedented" 68.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes [1]. Given that this figure continues to rise—the number of displaced individuals jumped by 2.9 million between 2016 and 2017—advocates, scholars, and policymakers must now reflect on the contemporary realities that continue to hamper the effectiveness of the post-World War II Global Refugee Regime. In this work, the Global Refugee Regime refers to "the body of law that surrounds international migration based on safety and protection" such as the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Accords [2]. Moreover, this work centers on a historical analysis of movement in the Shami (?????) region—a region comprised in part by lands in modern-day Palestine/Israel, TransJordan (later the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan), Lebanon, and Syria—during periods of rule under the Roman Empire, the Islamic Caliphates, the Ottoman Empire.


This work then juxtaposes the movement and fluidity of borders under these ruling regimes with the aforementioned nation-states' contemporary borders, with a particular emphasis on the Syrian diaspora following the 2011 Syrian civil war while also quantifying the number of refugees that fell under one of the durable solutions. From this juxtaposition, this paper will demonstrate how structures of governance (states, governments, international bodies like the UNHCR following the 1967 Accords) operating in the Shami region following World Wars I and II inherently relied on socio-legal definitions and colonial structures from the Global North that led to the mass displacement of Syrians in the region. The region's reliance on the UNHCR thus created a feedback loop wherein nation-states in the Middle East (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria) were forced to share governance of displaced peoples with the UNHCR as they sought to address contemporary forced migration, each reliant on the legitimacy of the other for the implementation of half-solutions. This shared governance between nation-states and the UNHCR reinforced the legitimacy of a broken international Refugee Regime and its colonial underpinnings, which ultimately shaped contemporary nation-state borders.





Humanities and Social Sciences