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While citizenship scholars have documented the increasing moralisation of immigration and integration policies, relatively few have explored how immigrants themselves make sense of their (partial) membership of European welfare states. Drawing on semi-structured interviews and participant observation with Syrian refugees, this article documents how they interpret and act upon the partial and limited citizenship status they are given in Belgium. We focus on one dimension of their experiences: their stigmatic dependency upon the Belgian welfare state. While their accounts can be partly understood as reproducing neoliberal discourses, we argue that they are also a strategic reaction against the dependency that is inadvertently created by European welfare states. From our respondents’ perspectives, their social rights thus appear not so much as entitlements to be claimed, but as a continuation of the humanitarian logic of the (unreciprocated) gift.

More information Original publication




Journal article


Taylor & Francis Online

Publication Date



43 - 60


Stigma, welfare, social rights, refugees, morality, gift, humanitarianism