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When bodies don’t count: Charting the rise of ‘Symbolic Government’ through multilateral responses to Eritrean and Rwandan refugees

Title
When bodies don’t count: Charting the rise of ‘Symbolic Government’ through multilateral responses to Eritrean and Rwandan refugees
Speaker(s)
Speaker: Georgia Cole # University of Oxford
Hosted by
Introduced by
Date and Time
1st Mar 2017 16:00 - 1st Mar 2017 17:30
Location
F.21, 7 George Square
URL
http://www.cas.ed.ac.uk/events/seminar_series/2016_2017/when_bodies_dont_count_charting_the_rise_of_symbolic_government_through_multilateral_responses_to_eritrean_and_rwandan_refugees

The financial and material instrumentalisation of displaced populations is routinely noted, with refugees variously understood as buffer zones between warring factions or as objects enabling the continual requisition of humanitarian aid. Under certain circumstances, however, the physical location of refugees becomes of minor or secondary importance to other more influential values invested in the label. The recent behaviour of the three main parties during negotiations over the end of Rwandan refugees’ statuses exemplifies this, with the political and symbolic connotations of the word ‘refugee’ having indeed come to exercise a greater influence over proceedings than the location or legal rights of the displaced persons. This same phenomenon has been seen throughout the history of Eritreans’ displacement across the Horn of Africa, as the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice’s responses towards Eritrean refugees appear to have been primarily driven by the political significance that could be projected on to them. While in both cases it has been tempting to explain paradoxical responses to these caseloads and their outcomes as due to the many challenges of translating policy in to practice, this paper argues that they should in addition be attributed to the logics of ‘symbolic governance’. Drawing on fieldwork in Rwanda, Uganda and Eritrea, this paper charts the emergency and consolidation of a form of refugee politics reliant for it success on the marginalisation of lived experiences, and explores what this might mean for our broader analyses of the politics surrounding refugees. 

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