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  • Relocating: the asylum experience in Cairo

    3 January 2014

    Refugees’ experiences of living in non-Western urban settings are infrequently addressed outside those particular cities. This essay presents snapshots of refugees’ experiences of asylum in one such city, Cairo, where it is UNHCR which undertakes the refugee status determination process. Following a presentation of the main institutional actors involved in Cairo’s ‘asylum scene’, it outlines some of the ‘general’ and ‘normal’ problems, vulnerabilities and risks encountered by refugees there. The remainder of the essay documents the particular difficulties experienced by three groups of sub-Saharan African refugees in this city: survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, unaccompanied minors and young men at particular risk. It demonstrates that, far from encountering peace through asylum, they discover a site characterized both by new forms of violence and by repetitions of existing abuse, and highlights the reasons why the right to legal counsel is one of the most important rights that a refugee can have.

  • Book Review: Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror

    3 January 2014

    Saviors and survivors lays the foundation for a welcome interrogation of the identity, motivations and actions of members of the United States’ Save Darfur Coalition, the self­styled ‘saviours’ of the book’s title. Mahmood Mamdani argues that America’s domestic determination to define and intervene in the supposed Darfur genocide is based not on knowledge, but rather on historically unfounded assumptions reproduced and solidified in light of contemporary geopolitics. More contro­versially perhaps, Mamdani suggests that a failure to understand the complexities of the conflict ‘has turned the movement to Save Darfur into the humanitarian face of the War on Terror’ (p. 6). Nonetheless, Mamdani rightly demands the historical contextualization of the conflict, dedicating five of eight chapters to tracing the pre­colonial, colonial and post­colonial development of Darfuri land and tribal politics, and noting the extent to which contemporary violence is a continuation of long­standing struggles over access to and use of land.

  • Not Born a Refugee Woman: Contesting Identities, Rethinking Practices

    12 August 2014

    Not Born a Refugee Woman is an in-depth inquiry into the identity construction of refugee women. It challenges and rethinks current identity concepts, policies, and practices in the context of a globalizing environment, and in the increasingly racialized post-September 11th context, from the perspective of refugee women. This collection brings together scholar_practitioners from across a wide range of disciplines. The authors emphasize refugee women’s agency, resilience, and creativity, in the continuum of domestic, civil, and transnational violence and conflicts, whether in flight or in resettlement, during their uprooted journey and beyond. Through the analysis of local examples and international case studies, the authors critically examine gendered and interrelated factors such as location, humanitarian aid, race, cultural norms, and current psycho-social research that affect the identity and well being of refugee women. This volume is destined to a wide audience of scholars, students, policy makers, advocates, and service providers interested in new developments and critical practices in domains related to gender and forced migrations.

  • 'Brothers' or Others: Propriety and Gender for Muslim Arab Sudanese in Egypt

    12 August 2014

    Muslim Arab Sudanese in Cairo have played a fundamental role in Egyptian history and society during many centuries of close relations between Egypt and Sudan. Although the government and official press describes them as "brothers" in a united Nile Valley, recent political developments in Egypt have underscored the precarious legal status of Sudanese in Cairo. Neither citizens nor foreigners, they are in an uncertain position, created in part through an unusual ethnic discourse which does not draw principally on obvious characteristics of difference. This rich ethnographic study shows instead that Sudanese ethnic identity is created from deeply held social values, especially those concerning gender and propriety, shared by Sudanese and Egyptian communities. The resulting ethnic identity is ambiguous and flexible, allowing Sudanese to voice their frustrations and make claims for their own uniqueness while acknowledging the identity that they share with the dominant Egyptian community.

  • Refugees’ integration in Uganda will require renewed lobbying

    6 October 2015

    Despite being a country with a relatively progressive history of responding to refugees, Uganda unfortunately appears nonetheless to be falling at the final hurdle. As it currently stands, a number of long-staying refugees within Uganda have approached the Department for Immigration to apply for citizenship and have been denied by the authorities on dubious legal grounds. On 30th August 2010 a Petition was therefore filed in the Constitutional Court on behalf of several Congolese refugees to request the interpretation of the law vis-à-vis the opportunities for refugees to naturalise in Uganda, that is, to become Ugandan citizens. This was in response to the concern of numerous actors that the supposed impediments to refugees’ naturalising within the country are a case of discriminatory practice, rather than legislatively justifiable....

  • Negotiating durable solutions for refugees: a critical space for semiotic analysis

    6 October 2015

    Despite the proliferation of specialised agencies designed to reduce the prevalence of refugees worldwide, the number of individuals fleeing persecution is increasing year on year as endemic violence in countries such as Iraq, Somalia and the Syrian Arab Republic continues. As a result, media broadcasts and political dialogues are saturated with discussions about these “persons of concern”. Fundamental questions nonetheless remain unanswered about what meaning these actors attribute to the label ‘refugee’ and what intent, other than paucity of knowledge, might be driving the term’s use or manipulation. Though this is evidently important in the public arena, where incorrect conflations fuel mistrust and misunderstandings, the ramifications of these divergent understandings at the level of multi-lateral politics have yet to be critically explored. This article applies Barthes’ theory of the multiple orders of the sign to address this. Using the case study of the negotiations preceding the invocation of the Cessation Clause for Rwandan refugees, it illustrates how the word refugee is susceptible to numerous, simultaneous understandings, and discusses the implications of these manifold interpretations for how durable solutions are envisaged and negotiated in the refugee regime. In the case of Rwandan refugees in Uganda, this has meant that over a decade of stalemated discussions between the Governments of Uganda and Rwanda and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees over their future have been broken by a series of bilateral concessions that, whilst diminishing the political significance attached to this protracted caseload, have failed to address the continuing precarity of their situation. By conceptualising the word refugee as a sign according to the Saussurean model of semiotics, this paper therefore argues that despite the term’s established legal-normative definition, its inherent malleability makes it susceptible to processes of political instrumentalisation. This elevates the refugee as a rhetorical figure above the refugee as a physical-legal body entitled to certain forms of assistance.

  • Research in Brief: Refugee Self-Reliance: Moving Beyond the Marketplace

    12 October 2017

    The issue of how to promote refugee self-reliance has become of heightened importance as the number of forcibly displaced people in the world rises and budgets for refugees in long-term situations of displacement shrink. Self-reliance for refugees is commonly discussed as the ability for refugees to live independently from humanitarian assistance. Many humanitarian organisations perceive refugee livelihoods creation, often through entrepreneurship, as the main way to foster refugee self-reliance. Yet focusing on a purely economic definition of refugee self-reliance is problematic as it does not capture the diversity of personal circumstances or the multifarious ways that refugees live without international assistance. Refugee self-reliance, livelihoods, and entrepreneurship have considerable salience – yet there remain notable gaps in understanding and supporting non-economic dimensions of refugee self-reliance. Academic and policy literature often focuses on technical economic outcomes at the expense of social and political dimensions and the use of holistic measurements. This Research in Brief presents new research on refugee self-reliance and addresses areas not commonly included in current discussions. In particular, it focuses on social and cultural, practical, and programmatic aspects of refugee self-reliance. In so doing, it rethinks the concept of refugee self-reliance and aims to contribute recommendations to help achieve positive outcomes in policy and practice. This brief arose out of a two-day workshop at the Refugee Studies Centre on rethinking refugee self-reliance, convened by Evan Easton-Calabria and Claudena Skran (Lawrence University) and funded by the Swiss FDFA Strategic Partnership Agreement with the Refugee Studies Centre.

  • A critical approach to the production of academic knowledge on refugee integration in the global North

    3 June 2015

    As migration from the global South to increasingly multi-ethnic global North countries has accelerated in recent decades, questions of how belonging shapes social outcomes have permeated discussions of asylum policies, service provision, national security and other topics touching upon the relationship between birthplace and rights. Categorised most frequently as issues of integration, these debates generally assume the binary nature of belonging: one is either a member or an outsider. The narrower body of academic literature on refugee integration in global North resettlement countries is similarly beset by problems rooted in a false distinction between those with and without refugee status. In reviewing a set of self-selected case studies to explore the role this literature plays, this paper argues that the selection of the refugee as the subject of research on resettlement problems is in fact based on the researcher’s subjective determination of what is most important in shaping a refugee’s experiences: refugee status. The assumptions underlying this decision foster the conceptual ambiguity that marks these studies’ diverse and often inchoate understandings of the term 'integration', which in turn render a set of claims about refugee integration that is prohibitively complex and fails to contribute to a better understanding of resettlement. Since such work may in fact reinforce the problems that it seeks to understand, this paper advocates for a more reflexive exploration of how assumptions about belonging shape research on global North resettlement and on refugees more broadly.

  • The two worlds of humanitarian innovation

    13 November 2013

    There has been a gradual shift in the humanitarian world to considering the role that innovation can play in addressing endemic challenges of inefficiency, unsustainability and dependency. Within this ‘humanitarian turn’, the dominant approaches have been ‘top-down’, mainly focusing on finding ways to improve organisational responses. Alongside this, though, there has been the emergence of an alternative discourse of ‘bottom-up’ innovation. This approach has not yet been integrated into the current world of innovation practice within the typical humanitarian community. However, as this paper argues, it offers a potential way to engage the skills, talents and aspirations of so-called beneficiary populations, and thereby nurture self-reliance and sustainability. In order to develop a basic framework for thinking about bottom-up innovation, this paper draws on three relevant pre-existing bodies of literature: innovation theory, design theory and ideas on participatory approaches to development. Drawing upon the ideas and gaps in these literatures, the paper sets out a research framework capable of advancing the recognition and nurturing of existing local adaptation and innovation capacities within beneficiary communities as a source of sustainable humanitarian solutions.