Questioning the value of ‘refugee’ status and its primary vanguard: the case of Eritreans in Uganda
This paper asks what, for refugees and displaced communities, is the perceived ‘value’ of refugee status in assisting them to access protection and any longer term solutions? Through empirical research with Eritreans in Kampala and Asmara, it explores the taken-for-granted portrayal of refugee status as a necessary – or the best suited – gatekeeper to protection and enduring solutions. In doing so it reframes a frequent anxiety in forced migration studies, which centres on the question of whether there is something unique about refugees beyond their legal status which makes them a clear object of study? This research somewhat flips that question, instead asking in what ways displaced individuals perceive that being assigned refugee status would make them different, and what do they understand would follow from this in terms of securities and solutions? The amended focus allows us to explore the role and value of refugee status not through its intended functions but via a grounded, granular analysis of people’s attitudes and responses to it. Throughout these discussions, what ‘value’ might mean was intentionally kept open, to ensure that people’s subjective attribution of qualities to this status could find full expression.