Politics resettled: the case of the Palestinian diaspora in Chile
Resettlement needs to be better understood as a political event and process. Along with repatriation and local integration, it is considered one of three traditional ‘durable solutions’ for refugees, with ‘success’ typically assessed by whether resettled refugees are provided with the tools they need to achieve ‘integration’ in their new ‘host-state’. Yet, how much do we understand resettlement beyond these policy-oriented categories? It is no secret that resettlement is an inherently political tool at the national and international level. And with increasingly stricter immigration policies in the West, attention has shifted to emerging resettlement actors, such as Latin American countries, to fill protection gaps. Although states are essentially in full control over who they admit, they are not the only actors with distinct (political) interests in relation to being engaged and involved in resettlement processes. The gradual withdrawal of states from resettlement has been followed by the creation of alternative roles for civil society. For example, migrant(/refugee) communities provide assistance to others from that group to adapt in their new host countries and are essentially portrayed as resources for integration akin to any NGO. Overall, there is a lack of understanding about what this ‘co-national resettlement support’ represents for refugees and their communities alike, and about the (political) significance of such support. In 2008, 117 Palestinian refugees were resettled to Chile from Iraq. In parallel to the ‘formal’ implementation of the project by the Chilean Government, UNHCR and their NGO partner the Vicaría, the long-settled Palestinian community supported their ‘compatriots’ by providing material and cultural resources. To merely focus on the relation of these practices to integration would obscure the fact that this participation was also highly politicised. Rather than positing the engagement of the ‘Chilean-Palestinian’ community as static and essentialised, this paper delves deeper into the motivations, worries and political repercussions that characterised their involvement in resettlement. It focuses on how the project was negotiated, framed and performed at both macro and micro levels by various actors within and peripheral to the Palestinian community in Chile. By conceptualising Chilean-Palestinians as a ‘diaspora’, I argue that the arrival of Palestinian refugees was an event where different (re-)formulations of (Chilean-)Palestinian identity and politics were centre stage. By using this project as a case study and applying diaspora theory as a framework, it becomes possible to elucidate the politics of resettlement and move beyond mere policy and state-centric considerations.