‘Forced migration’ and ‘forced displacement’

The main and official terms used in the relevant literature are ‘forced migration’ and ‘forced displacement'.

The term ‘forced migration’ is the preferred term by the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) and is defined as ‘a general term that refers to the movements of refugees and internally displaced people (those displaced by conflicts) as well as people displaced by natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine, or development projects’ (IASFM website). The Forced Migration Online (FMO) website understands ‘forced migration’ as a ‘complex, wide-ranging and pervasive set of phenomena’ and clarifies that ‘the study of forced migration is multidisciplinary, international, and multisectoral, incorporating academic, practitioner, agency and local perspectives’.

Forced migration is an appropriate term for the subject matter that it addresses. However, this book is not about forced migration, as such, although parts of what it addresses do fall within the scope of forced migration.

The difficulty with the qualification ‘forced’, with reference to migration, is that force implies violence and, as we know, not all involuntarily dislocated persons were subjected to actual violence; although one may argue that if adverse conditions were imposed on persons, then these could be understood as a form of violence.

Most sources in this field refer to the argument that Speare introduced back in 1974: Tn the strictest sense, migration can be considered involuntary only when a person is physically transported from a country and has no opportunity to escape from those transporting him’ (p. 89). Then, he goes on to claim that even if a person is transported under ‘immediate threat to life’, it camiot be called ‘involuntary’ because it ‘contains a voluntary element’ (p. 89). This is a very strict definition that understands force in the most literal sense.

This would be in contrast to the view that, for example, Spitz (1978) espouses when he calls poverty and inequality in the context of migration ‘silent violence’, suggesting that we should understand violence not only in the narrow sense that Speare advocates but in a wider sense, in terms of what makes continuing living in one place untenable.

Without delving deeper into the argument of what constitutes force in migration, displacement, and dislocation, it will suffice just to be reminded that there is a slight but important difference between being forced and having to flee reluctantly, involuntarily. Whereas in the context of refugees it could be reasonable to accept that a degree of force is invariably present, this is not always the case with other types of persons and situations that are covered by the more generic term ‘involuntary dislocation’. As will be shown below, there is a wide variety of upheavals that contribute to persons experiencing dislocation from home, and not all of them imply actual force, although all of these upheavals do involve the presence of adverse conditions.

The distinction between adverse conditions and force is a very important one. Often, because of a lack of precision, we tend to talk about force when, in fact, we are referring to adversity. Even in casual expressions such as ‘he was forced to leave the dinner party early’, it does not necessarily mean that somebody actually exerted force to make the person leave the dimier party venue; instead, it conveys that a wide variety of adverse circumstances (and even, possibly, pleasant but unexpected new obligations) made it difficult for that person to stay on at the dinner. Adversity (as it is discussed in this book), on the other hand, definitely has a negative connotation and refers to something untoward that occurred contrary to what was anticipated.

It is imperative that we are careful about the accuracy of our language when we refer to these phenomena because, in addition to any inherent linguistic vagueness and inaccuracies, there are real distorting factors that emanate from the emotional pressure that these situations create, as was already shown in the previous chapter.

Therefore, the choice of the term ‘involuntary dislocation’, as opposed to ‘forced migration’ or ‘forced displacement’, is based on the attempt to develop a language that is as precise as possible to account for these phenomena, so that we do not distort them, unwittingly, with all kinds of shades of meaning that slant our very conceptualisation of what we are faced with, whenever confronted with these types of situations. Involuntary dislocation involves several intricate sets of multifaceted and multidimensional processes, and it is imperative that we ensure that we respect their complexity. As has been emphasised already, according to the epistemological cycle, a clear initial conceptualisation of the basic phenomena we examine is the most essential prerequisite of any good intervention. Epistemological vigilance, which includes precision of language, will locate our ‘positioning’ appropriately, enabling us to acquire discerning complexity instead of being overwhelmed by confusing complexity.

Ultimately, the central rationale of this book is that the field which the term ‘involuntary dislocation’ delineates, and in a sense introduces, should supplement and enrich the existing field of ‘forced migration’ as well as all of the other related domains of studies, e.g. migration, refugee, trauma, disaster, victim, conflict studies, by opening up new vistas of the same and related phenomena.

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