Accepted paper:

Suffering vs. threatening bodies: vulnerability and sovereignty in the Iraqi refugee resettlement program

Author:

Perveen Ali (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Paper short abstract:

The concepts of vulnerability, self-reliance, and threat undergirding the Iraqi refugee resettlement program not only functioned as ideologies in the reification of state sovereignty, but also were mobilised in contesting state sovereignty in the promotion of strengthened refugee protection.

Paper long abstract:

The resettlement of Iraqi refugees to states in the global north was framed as a means for protecting the rights of the most vulnerable "others" and for increasing their self-reliance. It also served as a filter for resettlement states to screen out those refugees deemed to have insufficient "integration potential" or to be security threats. This paper considers the classifications of vulnerability and rights, self-reliance and integration, and inadmissibility and threat undergirding the Iraqi refugee resettlement program. It theorises that these concepts functioned as ideologies in the reification of sovereignty, the assertion of the neoliberal state, the production of hyper-visible and invisible refugee bodies, and the normalisation of the citizen as the ideal political subject. At the same time, however, these ideologies were also mobilised by refugees and UNHCR to contest the fetishisation of state sovereignty, as tensions emerged between agendas for humanitarian aid and human rights protection, and refugees appropriated ideologies of vulnerability towards their own protection interests. These practices and tensions, while at once reproducing the legal fiction of sovereignty as the normative mode of politics, also may have opened possibilities for sovereignty to be contested, shifted, and de-territorialised in the promotion of strengthened refugee protection.

panel W057
"The Other" and the de-fetishization of the state