Emerging alternatives

This section first assesses and finds wanting an emerging, popular market-based solution for the problem of what to do with people in forced migration, followed by suggestions for establishing conditions that would displace phallic logics of capital through care-driven bio-logics.

Special economic zones

One of the most significant problems for a person in forced migration is livelihood. Those who enter camps receive a modicum of support for housing and basic needs but are usually denied the right to work, even after years or decades of residency, and so are caught in a kind of limbo. Those who choose to take their chances in a city face no support but can seek employment, usually in the informal economy that exposes them to abuses such as denial of pay, beating or sexual violence, against which they have little recourse, and poor labour conditions that may be unsafe or unhealthy. Both these options typically make prostitution a woman’s best option. That is, capital enables a large number of women’s participation only through sexual disciplines of femininity she would otherwise reject.

Betts and Collier (2017) propose Special Economic Zones (SEZs) as a market- based solution for everyone. SEZs are production areas where outputs are not subject to tax that are intended to create employment and trade capacity, and promote investment. An SEZ in a camp allows employed residents to regain autonomy, self-esteem, and hope for the future through earning an income. The host country gains revenues that can help support camp running costs. The origin state receives returning citizens post-conflict that have developed skills to participate effectively in rebuilding society. The global North benefits from reduced aid contributions, untaxed access to affordable goods, and an alternative to opening borders. SEZs promise an excellent system for turning hardship into revenue. Women in particular benefit from an alternative to prostitution.

Yet SEZs collect together automated, factory-style, industrial production in which line workers need only minimal training for quota-based repetitive work.

The idea of beneficial training assumes camp dwellers have no developed skill set, though many would not benefit from training that might draw them away from more specialized work requiring significantly more training and education, e.g. medicine or law. Working conditions are also a concern. SEZs make a country more globally competitive by producing and trading goods at lower prices, and can allow industry to exploit tax breaks without necessarily providing the promised employment or export earnings. They are unsustainable if labour costs rise, and they are considered by many economists only to be successfully competitive in specific conditions over limited time (Hamada 1974; Madani 1999; World Bank 1992, 2008). In the face of shortfalls, the easiest approach to remaining competitive is cutting costs, which often means paying employees less and keeping overhead at a minimum. That is, workers pay the cost of SEZs staying competitive by labouring in poor conditions for minimal pay. Workers can in fact find themselves exploited in ‘sweatshop’ conditions with little autonomy and poor access to resources, while the only real change from their camp situation is transition into forced labour bordering on slavery. Such conditions enable women’s and girls’ sexual exploitation by management and other workers. Neoliberal approaches are accordingly likely to fail because they are structured by and aimed at capital logics of profit rather than humanitarian logics of care.

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