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conflict and community

by Dr. Francis Adu-Febiri

When people who experience inter-ethnic conflict in their home country move to another country to become immigrants or refugees, do they play out the conflict in the new country? Common sense will say yes, the inter-ethnic conflict will be re-enacted on the new turf. From a sociological point of view, however, inter-ethnic conflict in the old country would not necessarily carry over to the new country. The extent to which the conflict would be played out in the new country would depend on factors such as (1) the strength of existing cultural associations of the groups in the new country before the conflict broke out in the old, (2) the size of the groups involved in the conflict living in a new country, (3) the roles these immigrants/refugees face in the new country, (4) the level of racism and/or ethnocentrism in the new country, and (5) the nature of ethnic/race relations policy of the new country.

The existence of strong, unified cultural association of the groups in the new country before the inter-ethnic conflict broke out in the old country is likely to lessen the replay of the conflict in the new territory. This is because the strong interpersonal relations networks that such associations create and foster among the members would not easily break down under the force of new immigrants/ refugees from the old country. Moreover, new immigrants/refugees face significant practical cultural and economic problems, and many of these needs are usually met by previous and new immigrants/refugees from the old country banding together. The energy of the existing cultural associations and the new immigrant/refugee groups would be spent on dealing with practical problems rather than replaying the conflict. In such a situation the conflict may recur with little intensity mainly at the interpersonal level.

On the other hand, where separate associations of the ethnic groups in conflict exist, the conflict may be easily transferred into the new territory. Also, where there is lack of such cultural association prior to the emergence of the conflict in the old country, the new immigrants/refugees could regroup to re-enact the conflict. This would be the case when a large number of members of each of the ethnic groups in conflict in the old country find themselves in the new country and/or where some members of these groups played significant leadership roles in the conflict in the old country.

The level of racism and/or ethnocentrism in the new country is another important factor that could facilitate or mitigate the replay of ethnic conflict from the old country. Where racism/ ethnocentrism is pervasive, the new immigrants/ refugees may be compelled to foster inter-ethnic solidarity as a defence against prejudice and discrimination. In the absence of widespread racism/ethnocentrism these immigrants/refugees may have the luxury to re-enact the ethnic conflict occurring in the old country.

The nature of ethnic/race relations policy of the new country can also make a difference. A workable multiculturalism policy that promotes ethnic tolerance or a strong assimilationist policy fostering loyalty to the country is likely to water down the ethnic hostility of the new immigrants/ refugees. In the absence of such ethnic/race relations policies, the conflict the new immigrants/ refugees carried with them from the old country is likely to remain and/or fester in the new country.

In conclusion, there is no single scenario of the impact that inter-ethnic conflict in the old country may have on the relations of its citizens that immigrate to or become refugees in the new country. The factors discussed above could interact to produce several different ethnic relations situations, examples being a full-fledged replay of the inter-ethnic conflict, a mitigated form of the conflict, total lack of conflict, or scaled down conflict at the inter-group level.

Dr. Francis Adu-Febiri teaches sociology at Camosun College.


Canada has no obligation to accept refugees


As a member of the international community, Canada responsibilities have been clearly established by the Geneva Convention of 1951 and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Canada's reputation as a humanitarian nation brings us respect throughout the world, granting Canadians freedom of movement and association in areas where citizens from other nations would be unwelcome. Our nation sets standards to which other countries aspire. These standards are reflected in Canada's relatively enlightened refugee policy. In 1986, the Canadian people received the Nansen award in recognition of our service towards refugees.

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