Inside/outside the circle: from the indochinese designated class to contemporary group processing.

Author:Batarseh, Robert C.


This article compares the conditions surrounding the creation of Canada's former Indochinese Designated Class and the contemporary group processing program. Under this program the UNHCR identifies and refers entire groupings of refugees for resettlement in Canada. The article also briefly touches on the selection of Tibetan refugees by Canadian officials in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Designated Class framework streamlined eligibility for resettlement and allowed government officials to respond to persons not covered by the narrower definition of refugee under the Convention. In a similar fashion, contemporary group processing aims to make resettlement processing efficient by skipping refugee status determinations and using group profiles. The aftermath of the Indochinese resettlement programs and the tightening of eligibility under the Indochinese Designated Class have shaped the creation of group processing. Concerns over "pull factors," economic migration, and fraud, along with the securitization of migration, have led to a preference for homogenous and self-contained groupings of refugees. The article traces the Canadian government's preoccupation with visualizing and drawing boundaries around groupings of refugees. While both group processing and the former Indochinese Designated Class aim to make resettlement processing efficient, this objective plays a more prominent role under the former, intersecting with security practices in unique ways and informing the selection of groupings of refugees.


Cet article entreprend une comparaison des conditions influant sur la creation de l'ancienne Categorie designee d'Indochinois du gouvernement canadien avec celles qui ont contribue au programme contemporain de traitement groupe de cas des refugies. Sous les auspices de ce programme, le hcr identifie et designe des groupements entiers de refugies pour la reinstallation au Canada. L'article evoque egalement de facon breve le selectionnement des refugies tibetains par des fonctionnaires canadiens durant la fin des annees 60 et le debut des annees 70. Le cadre des Categories designees avait simplifie le processus d'admissibilite pour la reinstallation et permis aux fonctionnaires du gouvernement de s'adresser aux personnes qui n'etaient pas couvertes par la definition plus etroite du statut de refugie sous la Convention. De maniere semblable, le traitement groupe contemporain de cas de refugies a pour objectif de rendre efficace le traitement des demandes de reinstallation en sautant l'etape de determination de statut de refugie et en se servant des profils groupes. L'article propose que les consequences des programmes de reinstallation visant les Indochinois, ainsi que le renforcement des criteres d'admissibilite dans le contexte de la Categorie designee d'Indochinois, ont influence la creation du traitement groupe de cas de refugies. Les preoccupations vis-a-vis des "facteurs d'attraction " pour les migrants, la migration economique, et la fraude, ainsi que la securisation de la migration, ont contribue a une preference pour des groupements homogenes et bien delimites de refugies. L'article decrit la preoccupation du gouvernement canadien en matiere de visualisation et de delimitation degroupements de refugies. Bien que le traitement groupe ainsi que l'ancienne Categorie designee d'Indochinois partagent le meme objectif de rendre le traitement de la reinstallation plus efficace, cet objectif joue un role plus important dans le cas du premier, se croisant avec des pratiques de securisation d'une facon inedite et influant sur la selection de groupements de refugies.


Historically, states have grouped overseas refugees for resettlement, whether along the lines of nationality, ethnicity, race, labour skills, vulnerability, or political ideology. (1) Depending on the context, sometimes this grouping is made explicit, whereas in others it is implicit in how the state responds to refugee movements, carving out groupings of refugees. This article focuses on those moments when the Canadian government has either explicitly developed frameworks for grouping refugees for resettlement or has reflected on this process. It charts changes in this process, from an emphasis on settlement potential with the Tibetans, to a desire to streamline eligibility under the Indochinese Designated Class, and finally to contemporary obsessions over fraud, security, and the boundaries of groupings of refugees under group processing. The initially open-ended designation of eligibility for the Indochinese is contrasted to the Canadian government's current preference for much tighter definitions of group membership under group processing. Concerns over "pull factors" and economic migration towards the end of the Indochinese resettlement program as well as UNHCR reforms in the late 1990s and early 2000s played an important role in shaping the development of group processing in 2003. In addition, the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 have increased the security concerns of resettlement states. In response, the UNHCR has strengthened registration and identification practices aimed at dealing with fraud. While both the former Indochinese Designated Class and group processing aim to make resettlement processing efficient, under the latter this objective plays a central role as the state prefers self-contained and homogenous groupings of refugees that are perceived as easy to process and not a threat to the Canadian population. I argue that contemporary preoccupations with boundaries, visibility, homogeneity, and efficiency under group processing provide the Canadian state with new variables of consideration in determining which grouping of refugees is the right fit for Canada.

The article draws on a mixture of archival research and interviews with key individuals familiar with Canada's group processing. While archival research provides useful insights into the development of the Indochinese Designated Class, the Tibetan resettlement program, and official group resettlement procedures, it reveals less about how group processing decisions are made. For this reason, 11 interviews were conducted with officials from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), (2) the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAIT), (3) Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR). While the empirical focus of the article is on the historical and contemporary Canadian resettlement program, it also draws on the UNHCR's group resettlement methodology. Canada played a critical role in shaping the development of this method as well as the revitalization of resettlement within the UNHCR in the early 2000s. Additionally, the interviewing of UNHCR officials shed light on Canada's group processing program and the multilateral character of both the Bhutanese and Karen Burmese resettlement initiatives.

The article begins by briefly examining Canada's selection of Tibetan refugees in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It considers the UNHCR's and Dalai Lama's initial request to settle the Tibetans as a self-contained grouping, and the Canadian government's reluctance to do so. Despite this reluctance, concerns over the ability of the Tibetans to successfully settle in Canada shaped the government's assessment of them. Implicitly, it treated them as a grouping. The article then turns its attention to the initially positive response by Western countries to the plight of the Indochinese and the subsequent use of a loose definition of eligibility under Canada's Designated Classes to resettle them. I highlight how this regulatory framework aimed to work outside the Refugee Convention and streamline the determination of eligibility. The increasing skepticism towards the Indochinese resettlement programs in the buildup to the signing of the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) in 1989 cast doubt on the openended definition of eligibility under the Designated Class. The perception of economic migrants and "pull factors" led to individual screening mechanisms to determine refugee status. The signing of the CPA coincided with the end of the Cold War, removing an important geopolitical motivation behind largescale resettlement to Western countries. During the 1990s there was an emphasis on return, as resettlement became the least-preferred durable solution. Despite this move away from resettlement, the UNHCR in the latter part of the decade began to reform its resettlement operations. By the early 2000s, resettlement states such as Canada began pushing the UNHCR to increase referrals. The creation of the group processing program in 2003 took place in a context where resettlement is officially based on protection needs and is targeted towards protracted refugee situations. This focus, however, is matched by state preoccupations with fraud and security risks. Under group processing, there is an emphasis in clearly visualizing and identifying homogenous and self-contained groupings of refugees. To demonstrate this, I draw on the program's pilot project in 2003 that selected groupings of Somali Madiban and Sudanese from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. The article also considers the selection of the Bhutanese and the exclusion of Burundians, Rwandans, and Chechens from the program. I conclude by reflecting on the similarities and differences between group processing and the former Indochinese Designated Class. While earlier versions of the Indochinese Designated Class and contemporary group processing both aim to make resettlement processing efficient and place less emphasis on ensuring refugee status under the Convention, bureaucratic objectives are more pronounced under the latter, intersecting with security concerns in unique ways and informing the selection of groupings of refugees for resettlement.

Tibetan Resettlement

Following the annexation of Tibet...

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