Although there has been a renewed scholarly interest on the migration-development nexus that is predominantly related to economically-oriented migration, any debate on the linkage between development and refugee movements is highly scarce. Nonetheless, it is known that there are considerable similarities between economically-oriented migrants and politically-oriented ones in terms of their migratory trajectories. Both causes and consequences of refugee movements could be seen and better understood through the lenses of a development question. This keynote lecture intends to explore the question of how to consider refugees as an issue of development.

If one defines development as a process in which someone or something grows or changes and becomes more advanced, then conventional wisdom may claim that development naturally happens in an environment of security. Any individual, who experiences an obstacle to his or her own development, and consequently feels insecure, is likely to tend to change his or her geography. Indeed, this is somewhat the case with refugees: they are people with a well-founded fear of being persecuted, who flee for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval, war, etc. In other words, they are inclined to secure a life out of the insecurity surrounding them.

The agency of refugees is not only visible at their origin. They are also active agents in their subsequent moves, settlement and resettlement, and, if it happens, in their return: in each of these phases, they are not only in search of an environment of security, but they also are constantly attempting to contribute to a safe and sound setting around themselves. Similar to other migrants, refugees have skills, talents and aspirations, and they can economically contribute to their host communities and societies. Consequently, rather than viewing refugees as passive victims of a humanitarian crisis, by providing them with “self-reliance” opportunities and integration possibilities, the refugee-receiving countries may create an environment of security, or of development, not only for themselves, but also for the refugees and even for the refugees’ origin countries for an anticipated post-conflict era.

This keynote lecture substantiates its arguments by referring to several historical and comparative cases of refugees in recent decades, and it also references the current circumstances of Syrian refugees, who are often subject to a wide range of destructive and negative discourses including victimizing and blaming. This keynote lecture concludes that policies and practices that promote the ideas of agency, humanity and dignity are needed to correctly portray the refugees in their movements, and to contribute to the individual and societal levels of development, or security, around them and/or us. It also concludes that portraying refugees as active and rights-claiming agents is not only related to a human rights question, but more than that, it is an issue of social justice. Social justice is an essential element that not only balances the contending expectations and aspirations of refugees and their host communities, but also directly reinforces the notion of security, and hence, of development in the geographies affected by refugee movements.