Blog post by Zaid Hydari (Executive Director of the Refugee Solidarity Network and an adjunct professor of law at Fordham University School of Law) and Ezgi Irgil (PhD student at the Department of Political Science, the University of Gothenburg).
Commentary on refugees in the Global South often pit their policies and approach against those of the Global North or against international standards, depicting the latter as instructive or singularly aspired toward. In reality, states in the Global South learn from one another, a phenomenon worthy of investigation and study. Freier, Micinski, and Tsourapas (2021) categorize ‘diffusion’ within developing countries under three patterns: states learning discourses from one another to extract resources, cooperation between states through tripartite agreements, and emulation of support platforms with states through institutionalisation.
As an illustrative case study of practical South-South exchange, in this brief, we look at policy formulation in Colombia toward Venezuelan nationals in comparison to refugee policy in Turkey targeting Syrian nationals. There are indications that Colombia has adopted and adapted certain refugee policies based on the experience of Turkey. However, the degree to which this is the case has yet to be explored.
Turkey is host to more than four million refugees. Although a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Turkey maintains a geographical limitation, extending full protection to only those individuals arriving from Europe. From the onset of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Turkey served as a host to displaced Syrian nationals, but it was not until 2014 that the Turkish government enacted the Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP), a first-ever national law governing migration and asylum (Asylum Information Database 2020). The LFIP contains a ‘Temporary Protection’ status, one that Syrian nationals have been deemed eligible for since a Council of Minister’s decision soon after the law’s enactment. This status entitles Syrians to access basic services such as health care, education, and access to the labour market in their registered cities. As of 2021, Temporary Protection continues to be the main status available for Syrian nationals in Turkey, despite the policy being well over seven years old.
Hosting around two million Venezuelan refugees, Colombia is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. In addition to the main international refugee law instruments, Colombia is also a signatory to the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees. This non-binding regional pact aims for solidarity and cooperation across Latin America (Maldonado Castillo 2015) and provides an expanded definition of those entitled to international protection. In February 2021, the Government of Colombia announced the introduction of a ten-year protection status permit, named Temporary Statute of Protection for Venezuelan migrants (TSPV), which replaces a two-year Special Stay Permit (Banulescu-Bogdan and Chaves-González 2021).
Syrians and Venezuelans have both fled a mix of political instability, violence and repression, and economic disaster, leading to the mass exodus of swaths of their populations (UNHCR 2021). While these contexts are certainly unique, parallels in the policy response of the main neighbouring host countries, Turkey and Colombia, elicit several important emerging trends within refugee management and potential lessons for developing refugee host states around the world.
Why is this important?
Hardly anyone can argue that previous leaders in refugee protection, such as the European Union, have slid backwards in their compliance with international principles, increasingly relying on deterrence, externalization, and outsourcing as mechanisms to handle migration (European Council of Refugees and Exiles 2018). This has contributed to many developing countries with nascent frameworks adopting asylum and migration management strategies that are similarly conservative in their interpretation of international and regional commitments and more informed by practical and political realities. Countries such as Turkey may be emerging to establish precedents and trends in this regard.
This is particularly relevant given that more than six months after the Government of Colombia’s initial announcement, as of October 30, Colombia is taking steps to make the TSPV a full reality. Meanwhile, a surge in Afghan arrivals converging with economic challenges is testing Turkey’s asylum system, underscoring the urgency for greater understanding of the fundamentals of policy transfer and challenges of temporary protection regimes.
The first indication of potential policy transfer is the role of bureaucrats and elites in positions of authority in Colombia, using Turkey as a case to develop examples for practice, as epitomized by the May 2017 delegation of Colombian officials to Turkey, led by Juan Carlos Restrepo, senior intelligence advisor to the then-president. Colombia’s former ambassador to Turkey, Juan Alfredo Pinto, articulates a number of specific migration management elements on which Colombia drew lessons from the Turkish experience: institutional cooperation, registration of immigrants, education at all levels, implicit and explicit costs, how to address the issue, international community pacts to demand help, refugee camp experiences, humanitarian attention, and ‘because it is the biggest problem in the world’ (Pinto 2018). These points offer what the ex-ambassador has witnessed in Turkey and how these experiences can guide Colombia in the reception of Venezuelans.
International Cooperation Platforms
Another indication of policy transfer, beyond bilateral relations, is the establishment of collaborative platforms. For example, Turkey and Colombia have exchanged know-how in multilateral forums, such as the ILO’s South-South and Triangular Cooperation (SSTC). This platform ‘can be defined as the collaboration between two or more developing countries, often supported by traditional partners, guided by the principles of solidarity and non-conditionality, aiming at implementing inclusive and distributive development models that are driven by demand’.
One of these examples is the launch of an e-learning course for sharing the practices between Colombia and Turkey, through the International Labour Organisation (ILO), about how to offer sustainable work to refugees within the circumstances of Covid-19 (ILO 2020). Relying on the commonalities between Turkey and Colombia, both countries aim to use this initiative to learn from one another and rely on each other’s experiences while improving their current practices.
International Organizations and Global Frameworks
Turkey and Colombia additionally engage through a number of critical global processes, most notably on this subject those led or coordinated by the Global Refugee Agency, UNHCR. Turkey and Colombia have been members of the UNHCR Executive Committee since 1951 and 1955 respectively, and are members for the current period covering October 2021-2022. The UNHCR plays a significant role in both countries’ refugee responses, leading inter-agency coordination mechanisms and advising the governments on policy. UNHCR issued guidance on temporary protection in February 2014, outlining a range of important considerations for governments in employing such schemes. With implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees placing emphasis on refugees’ access to the labour market and self-reliance, and given that temporary protection schemes have been noted to achieve such ends, these forums and mechanisms appear to play a role in potential policy transfer between the two host nations.
Understanding how states engage with one another while tracking trends can help shed light on the future trajectory of refugee policies. This is particularly relevant for practitioners and other civil society actors seeking to engage in advocacy to influence law and policy. Relying on the cases of Colombia and Turkey, in this piece, we identify points where we see indications of policy transfer, where Colombia models a notable temporary protective framework on that of Turkey. While such clear examples of cooperation and influence may appear straightforward, there is ample room to dig further into such countries’ motivations and rationale for employing temporary protection in this way. However, to what extent the similarities are the result of actual policy transfer and to what extent these common practices of refugee reception is yet to be explored. By initiating this topic, we hope to lay the foundation for a series of discussions to come, while tracking the performance of both regimes to glean lessons learned from such an approach to refugee response.
- Asylum Information Database (AIDA). 2020. Country Report: Turkey. https://asylumineurope.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/AIDA-TR_2020update.pdf.
- Banulescu-Bogdan, N. and D. Chaves-Gonzales. 2021. “What comes next ow that Colombia has taken a historic step on migration?” Migration Policy Institute. February. Accessed October 16, 2021. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/news/colombia-historic-legalization-what-next.
- European Council of Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). 2018. Asylum at the European Council 2018: Outsourcing or Reform? Policy Paper 4.
- Freier, L. F., N. R. Micinski, and G. Tsourapas. 2021. ‘Refugee commodification: the diffusion of refugee rent-seeking in the Global South’. Third World Quarterly.
- ILO. 2020. La cooperación entre Turquía y Colombia fomentará el acceso al trabajo decente para todos más allá de la COVID-19. Accessed September 22, 2021. https://www.ilo.org/lima/sala-de-prensa/WCMS_764837/lang–es/index.htm.
- Maldonado Castillo, C. 2015. ‘The Cartagena process: 30 years of innovation and solidarity’. Forced Migration Review 49.
- Pinto, J. A. 2018. ‘Lecciones de Turquía para Colombia ante la crisis migratoria’. El Tiempo. Accessed September 21, 2021. https://www.eltiempo.com/mundo/venezuela/lecciones-de-turquia-para-colombia-sobre-los-venezolanos-296796.
- UNHCR. 2021. Figures at a Glance. Accessed September 17, 2021. https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html.
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