The genocide studies canon is well-developed in its study of the conditions that have led to genocide. Current research seeks to deconstruct genocide as it was defined in 1948 by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG) and determine which occurrences fit within archetypal cases such as the German Holocaust or Rwandan genocide.1 The effects of genocide on societies and their survivors have been widely researched, and yet little attention has been given to migration and the external displacement of people due to genocidal conditions. This paper will analyze the relationship between naming a genocide and refugee or asylum seeker flows.
To frame this analysis, I will use Jonassohn's question "How would our understanding and explanations be affected if we were to study genocide, famine, and refugees not in isolation, but as different aspects of the same phenomenon?"2 I expect that the mainstream naming of genocides will provide international and intrastate policy space for increased refugee and asylum seeker applications.3 Challenging the relationship between displaced people and genocide, raises questions of legitimacy of atrocities and victims' plights, which has powerful implications for planning future responses of pressing human rights abuses.
Hinton identifies a key issue in genocide studies: by focusing on genocide prevention, researchers miss the important experiences that occur after genocide.4 Conversely, Straus asks more narrowly of genocide survivors, "Why could a group not be relocated? Why could a group not be incorporated or coopted?"5 This highlights the presumption that internal relocation or incorporation of displaced groups is the natural result of genocide because the economic means of relocation may be destroyed. Alternatively, genocide survivors do seek refugee or asylum status in other countries during and after genocide. This timeline of genocide and migration is complicated by whether or not genocide has formally ended. This necessity of a distinct end to genocidal violence suggests a hierarchy of victimhood amongst survivors and the dead. It privileges the experiences of survivors and regards perpetrators of genocides versus other mass atrocities as worthy of different interventions. As a result, if intervention does not occur during a genocide, survivors must seek refuge through migration after atrocities end.
Structural factors, such as race, ethnicity, law, nationality, class, and religion, within states can be driving sources of intergroup conflicts that escalate to genocide. However, differentiating survivors and victims from perpetrators based on these identities is complicated because most violent mass killings have taken place in societies where groups are relatively homogeneous and share these factors.6 External actors may fail to recognize genocide, and label it as civil war or other human rights abuses that are not as dire as genocide. If groups perpetrating and surviving genocides are similar, well- substantiated claims for asylum or refugee status based on one of these factors become difficult to prove. Such factors are ingrained in international law, yet law often does not reflect the nuance and discretion that is necessary to determine genocidal intent in homogeneous social groups.
Ethnicity is particularly important to identify and consider when deconstructing genocide prevention, intervention, and response. Hinton describes ethnicity as a "social category linking a group of people who perceive themselves to share ancestry and identity markers (language, food, dress, religion, and so forth)."7 This definition of ethnicity reflects the sameness or homogeneity that may be present in groups where genocidal crime occurs. Social science conceptions of ethnicity, however, do not necessarily transfer to international law. For instance, Conley-Zilkic notes, "The legal definition of genocide limits the victims to ethnic, national, racial or religious groups. While such "groupness" often describes victim selection, it rarely accounts for endings."8 This clarification of legal groupings implies that violence based on ethnic grouping or other social groupings does not inherently account for genocidal intent. International conceptions of asylum law also leave group identities muddled. Individuals may seek asylum from persecution on protected grounds including race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and membership in a particular social group. Yet ethnicity is not a protected ground for asylum. Rather, it may constitute membership in a social group, but survivors and their lawyers must prove this.
These frameworks for international law are derived from international norms established in Western countries over the 19th and 20th centuries. Western colonizing countries privileged intervention in their own regions over their colonies. Bellamy describes the norms toward colonies' violence as a "much more lenient, set of conditions governed by the doctrine of the civilizing mission and ideology of selective extermination."9 This is a way of privileging certain people and communities over others, creating racialized, nationalized, and gendered inequalities. Moses describes how states excuse their violence politically by framing it in security terms.10 Such framing depicts the power of international norms and naming in creating a structure that requires various levels of response, when in fact there is often no overarching, central response.
The Responsibility to Protect doctrine of the late 20th century makes these norms even more theoretically interesting and has rich implications for migrants. The Responsibility to Protect is framed as the international community's burden of humanitarianism. It does not emancipate citizens or reinforce their rights; its only claim is "to sustain bare life."11 The language of this humanitarian effort again reflects a prioritization of punishment and a focus on perpetrators of genocide, rather than on victims' and survivors' rights post-genocide. Although the language is intended to make civilians beneficiaries by using a language of rights that is nation-centric and that differentiates wars, counterinsurgency, and genocide, survivors are left disempowered.12 Straus affirms that it is "unwise" to overly differentiate between genocide and other forms of mass violence, as both use some sort of group or social logic to hurt civilians.13
When seeking asylum or refugee status, most individuals apply under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention) or the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), not the 1948 UNCG. Still, these conventions are not all encompassing in their protections against inhumane treatment, nor do they accurately count and represent those effected by genocide. Their provisions, as in the UNCG, have narrow aims of punishment and carceral justice, as outlined in the UNCG Articles IV, V, and VI, rather than preventative means. Therefore, we see "repeated inaction in the face of genocide."14
A current account of the violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar considers the increasing death toll and efforts to eradicate the group as worthy of asking, "Is this genocide?"15 The implications of this are that fleeing mass violence is not enough. Groups must be fleeing genocidal intent, and yet, currently, there is no data that accessibly reflects how many people migrate, seek asylum, or are refugees as a direct result of genocidal violence across cases. The absence of accurate data on migration flows reflects a lack of power among survivors to tell their stories in immigration court.
The Rwandan genocide provides an opportunity to examine international response to refugees fleeing mass violence. This period of conflict resulted in the expulsion of refugees to nearby Uganda. These refugees returned in later years with militarized and politicized intent that was utilized in the genocide.16 Had international intervention in the form of resource distribution occurred, refugees might have been socialized in a way that did not exacerbate the effects of genocide. De Waal determines that choice of story mattered when other Rwandan refugees claimed asylum. In Rwanda he saw the way in which testimonies "began to change- for example in asylum hearings and trials- and these accounts served less to speak unheard truth to power than to bolster the new apparatus of power in Rwanda."17 The naming and journalistic coverage of genocide shaped the legal context in which survivors told their stories during asylum and refugee cases.
To begin shaping research in terms of migration flows during genocide, one study conducted a global analysis to determine whether genocides and civil wars resulted in more internally displaced persons (IDPs) or refugees. The findings suggested that genocides lead to more refugees and civil wars to more IDPs, though the study was limited by lack of information about states' immigration policies.18 This study is an important step in analyzing the effects of genocide on migrants. In this vein, policy changes to asylum law would make the incorporation of genocide victims more possible. Frelick suggests a "complementary protection standard" to be extended to people who "face the threat of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, or serious threats to life or physical integrity if returned to their countries because of a real risk of violence or exceptional situations" yet are not covered by international law.19 Genocide merits special consideration for refugee seekers or asylum seekers under United States and international law, to provide protection for these extremely vulnerable groups.
The process of answering the question posed at the start of this essay provides clear indicators of space for future research and policy action. First, I recommend further quantitative research that goes beyond a survey of the literature and considers genocide-related migration. Too often the cases of genocide that do not fit the traditional scale or canon of genocide studies are neglected in study and intervention, and as Lemarchand says, "Scale makes little difference when human lives are at stake."20 Second, I recommend further qualitative, collaborative research between genocide studies and forced migration scholars to best gauge how genocide impacts refugees and asylum seekers. Sharing expertise between these two subfields of international studies is particularly important for cultivating a policy narrative that prioritizes and legitimizes the lived experiences of genocide survivors, while providing tangible legal structures to support them before, during, and after genocides occur. Ultimately, this work requires an activist orientation that emphasizes the victims' rights over those of perpetrators and builds on current trends of deconstruction in the in the field of genocide studies.