The Humanitarian-Development Nexus: A Political Economy Analysis

The Humanitarian-Development Nexus: A Political Economy Analysis
2 April 2019, 6.00pm - 8.00pm
IALS Council Chamber, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DR

The International Refugee Law Seminar Series, sponsored by the Refugee Law Initiative at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, provides a public space for discussion, promotion and dissemination of research between academics, practitioners, students and others with an interest in the refugee and forced migration field.

9th International Refugee Law Seminar Series

The 9th International Refugee Law Seminar Series is an open theme covering a range of topics related to refugee law and protection, and presented by experts from a number of professions.

The Humanitarian-Development Nexus: A Political Economy Analysis


The paper is in two parts. The first sketches the emergence of the humanitarian: development nexus (HDN). Emphasising the development-led characteristics of this paradigm, it locates this in the context of the reformulation of international responses to forced displacement embodied in the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF). The second part considers the structural determinants and interests which are driving the international community’s engagement with the nexus. It theorises this emerging paradigm by first acknowledging its neo-liberal economic ambitions, but principally by locating it in an approach to development theory made popular in the 1970s-1990s through the work of writers such as Frank, Amin, Escobar and more recently de Soto - the core–periphery/metropole-dependency model of economic dualism. I argue that the nexus has remarkable parallels with the model of economic dualism and how we might theorise the current refugee response regime which subordinates impacted countries to an economic development and containment process applied by the advanced ‘imperial’ donor countries of the global north. The limited capacity of the ‘empire to fight back’ concludes the paper.


Roger Zetter is Emeritus Professor of Refugee Studies, retiring as the fourth Director of the Refugee Studies Centre in September 2011. His long association with the RSC commenced in 1988 as Founding Editor of the Journal of Refugee Studies, published by Oxford University Press, a position held until 2001.

Following undergraduate studies at Cambridge he completed his DPhil at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex; this research on the Greek–Cypriot Refugees from 1974 was the foundation for a career-long engagement with questions of institutional and bureaucratic power and the labelling of refugees and other categories of forcibly displaced people. In an academic career spanning over 35 years and with regional expertise in sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Middle East, his teaching, research, publications and consultancy have included all stages of the ‘refugee and displacement cycle’.

He has been a consultant to many governments and international organisations - UNHCR, UNDP, UNHABITAT, UNFPA, World Bank, ILO, IOM, IFRC, Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation, OXFAM and Brookings-Bern Project - and the governments of UK, NZ, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland and the EC; research funders include ESRC, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, MPI.

Recent research includes: protracted refugee situations (Norwegian MFA); climate and environmental change and population displacement (MacArthur Foundation, UNHCR, Swiss MFA, Norwegian MFA); development-led responses to the economic costs and impacts of forced migration, and labour market access for refugees (World Bank, Danish MFA, EC, ILO); protection and forced displacement (Swiss Federal Commission for Migration, Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs, Migration Policy Institute); framing humanitarian principles (IOM).

He has written over 35 peer reviewed papers, six books, over 20 book chapters, 15 major research reports and numerous op. eds. His 1991 Journal of Refugee Studies paper, ‘Labelling refugees: forming and transforming a bureaucratic identity’ is one of the most widely cited in refugee studies. For the centenary of Oxford University Press Journals, the paper was selected as one of the 100 most influential papers published over the previous century.


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