Beenish Khan, Carleton University

Executive Summary:

Since the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees articulated the commitment to ensuring meaningful refugee participation, forced migration scholars have engaged considerably with the disparities in how meaningful participation is understood, the expected outcomes, and the standards for achieving this goal. Considering the complexities of the relationship between refugees and different power structures, as well as the diverse ways in which refugees enact agency, this paper engages with various case studies of refugee participation to explore the following research questions: how should meaningful refugee participation be understood and achieved? In what ways do marginalized refugee communities assert their agency within diverse contexts to challenge the dominant power structures that shape their participation? What best practices for meaningful participation emerge from these expressions of agency?

Engaging with the key insights on participation presented by women and gender studies, development studies, and decolonization studies, this paper argues that refugees employ diverse strategies for participation in different contexts. It analyzes how various forms of power, including structural, productive, institutional, and compulsory power, significantly impact the forms of participation in which refugees engage meaningfully. Using examples of refugee women-led protests in Liberia, subtle forms of resistance by refugee youth in Uganda, and the participation of the Network for Refugee Voices in Geneva, the paper examines how the meanings, scope, goals, and outcomes of meaningful participation differ depending on particular social, political, economic, and geographic contexts. The paper concludes with best practices to support the development of meaningful refugee participation, and calls for stakeholders to consider the role of power and agency when determining standards of best practices for meaningful refugee participation.

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