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5 J. Refugee Stud. 205 (1992)
Counting the Refugees: Gifts, Givers, Patrons and Clients

handle is hein.journals/jrefst5 and id is 213 raw text is: Journal of Refugee Studies Vol. 5. No. 3/4 1992

Counting the Refugees: Gifts,
Givers, Patrons and Clients*
Refugee Studies Programme, Oxford University
As long as the food and numbers balance,
accountability is satisfied ... when the balance is
disrupted, so is the security of the individual
bureaucrat and the system as a whole
(Waldron 1987).
This paper examines the justifications, operational methods and results of the
requirement to enumerate refugee populations prior to supplying food aid. The
authors argue (1) that this practice is insufficient as a basis for assessing need, (2) that
it leads to oppressive practices in refugee assistance, forming part of 'an ideology of
control' within aid programmes, and (3) that it fails to provide the 'accountability'
sought by donors. In addition, the paper questions the usual notion of 'fairness'
in the distribution of welfare goods in such contexts, in the light of the anthropology
of gifts, the nature of patronage systems and philosophical theories of obligation
and accountability. Positive suggestions are made for ways to increase both
accountability and 'client' participation in refugee food distribution systems.
Refugees are a particular category of people who, because they have lost the
protection of their own state, must rely on the willingness of others to observe
humanitarian norms, some of which have been codified in international law.
While in principle the state which offers asylum also assumes responsibility for
the welfare of refugee populations, the extreme poverty of those states which
host the majority of the world's refugees has resulted in the creation of an
international relief system supported by donations of cash and commodities
given by individuals and states in the richest parts of the world. This bureaucracy
has been allotted (or, as in the case of the non-government agencies, has
voluntarily assumed) the function of distributing these resources. However,
humanitarian agencies have also been left with the responsiblity for raising the
funds, that is, for launching appeals which will persuade individuals and
governments to support the relief programmes they mount. Thus for the
humanitarian regime, refugees have become both the means and the end.

@ Oxford University Press 1992

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