Public Seminar Series, Hilary term 2014. Seminar by Dr Anne Hammerstad (University of Kent), recorded on 12 March 2014 at the Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford.
In this presentation, Dr Hammerstad discusses the rise and decline of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as a global security actor. She follows the refugee agency through some of the major conflict-induced humanitarian crises and complex emergencies of the past two decades, including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Kosovo and eastern Zaire/Congo. In the 1990s UNHCR went through a momentous transformation from a small, timid legal protection agency to the world’s foremost humanitarian actor playing a central role in the international response to the many wars of the tumultuous last decade of the twentieth century. Then, as the twenty-first century set in, the agency’s political prominence waned. It remains a major humanitarian actor, but the polarised post-9/11 period, concern over shrinking 'humanitarian space', and a worsening protection climate for refugees and asylum seekers spurred UNHCR to abandon its claim to be a global security actor and return to a more modest, quietly diplomatic role.
Dr Hammerstad investigates UNHCR’s response to this new international environment, and why it adopted, adapted and finally abandoned a security discourse on the refugee problem. Her presentation is based on the findings in her newly published book, The Rise and Decline of a Global Security Actor: UNHCR, Refugee Protection, and Security (Oxford University Press).