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Nigerian Isa Muazu came to the United Kingdom in 2007 on a visitor’s visa. He overstayed and in 2013 he was detained. Muazu applied for asylum protection based on his fear of death at the hands of the West African Islamist entity Boko Haram, which he claimed had already killed members of his family. Muazu’s application was fast-tracked and rejected. Asylum-seekers, as a group, appear cognizant of the disbelief with which their personal testimony is often received, and the limitations of expertise to substantiate their narratives. As a result they employ diverse and creative strategies to anchor their personal testimonies or broaden them beyond their narrow personal experience. By reshaping personal testimonies of violence and persecution into broader narratives about gender-based violence at the hands of Boko Haram, asylum-seekers actuate a mimetic strategy drawing on powerful historical tropes about Africa and Africans. Although migration authorities globally acknowledge incontrovertible evidence of Boko Haram’s violence in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad, asylum and refugee anxieties narrated in immigration courts in the UK and US are often about future hypothetical jeopardy, not enacted historical trauma.  Absent the mimetic novelty of Boko Haram, and as Plato conjectured, the poetics of asylum-seekers risk being exposed as little more than “simple narration”.

This is an additional public seminar, open to all.

About the speaker

Benjamin N. Lawrance holds the Barber B. Conable Jr. Endowed Chair in International Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology, NY, USA. A graduate of Stanford University and University College London, his research interests include comparative and contemporary slavery, human trafficking, cuisine and globalization, human rights, refugee issues and asylum policies.

His forthcoming book, Amistad's Orphans: An Atlantic Story of Children, Slavery, and Smuggling (Yale 2015) examines West African child smuggling in the 19th century. His other books examine asylum, refugee issues, expert testimony, historical and contemporary trafficking in women and children in Africa. His essays appear in the Journal of African History, Biography, Slavery & AbolitionAfrican Economic History, Anthropological Quarterly, Cahiers d'Études Africaines, and the African Studies Review, among others.

Professor Lawrance is a legal consultant on the contemporary political, social and cultural climate in West Africa. He has served as an expert witness for over two hundred and seventy asylum claims of West Africans in the U.S., Canada, the U.K, the Netherlands, Israel, and many other countries, and his opinions have featured in appellate rulings in the U.S. and the U.K. He volunteers as a country conditions expert for Amnesty International USA.