Journal Article - Conflict Management and Peace Science

The Myth of the Borderless World: Refugees and Repatriation Policy

June 2007


This essay explores the impact of the end of the Cold War on the counter-refugee-crisis policies of the United Nations and its strongest member states. I argue that during the Cold War, state interests were subordinated to the refugee interests for two reasons. First, refugees were few in number and tended to be educated, skilled, and informed (valuable). Second, the WWII experience of the Holocaust in Europe led to the institutionalization of concern for the fate of persecuted groups at the expense of state interests. After the end of the Cold War, however, a number of the Soviet Union's allies and successor states began to fail, and these state failures, combined with unprecedented access to information about living conditions abroad, led to refugee flows that impacted powerful states. Whereas the preferred counter-refugee crisis policy during the Cold War was resettlement, after the Cold War it shifted to repatriation: voluntary repatriation in the best cases, and forced repatriation in the worst. The essay's primary focus is an assessment of the consequences of this policy shift from resettlement to repatriation of refugees. After introducing a number of important empirical findings regarding the frequency and scale of contemporary refugee crises, I conclude that although in some cases the policy of supporting voluntary repatriation is a good thing, it may have the unintended consequence of involuntary or forced repatriations as receiving states feel little compulsion to resettle these refugees within their borders.

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For Academic Citation: Toft, Monica Duffy. The Myth of the Borderless World: Refugees and Repatriation Policy.” Conflict Management and Peace Science, vol. 24. no. 2. (June 2007):