Questions of Refugee Deservedness

This article, written by one of our Grad Student Affiliates, was originally published in Anthropology News.  

by Kelly A. Yotebieng
Society for Urban, National, and Transnational/Global Anthropology

The Anthropologist as an Ally

As anthropologists of forced migration, we are used to being kept on our toes as the nature, causes, consequences, and policies that enshroud forced migration are constantly fluctuating. When I returned to Cameroon for ethnographic fieldwork after over a decade living in the region as a humanitarian professional, I came with the intention of working with a large and growing population of Central African refugees. When I had last left Cameroon a year earlier in 2015, this population was growing rapidly, and garnering the attention of the world, or at least those of us who pay attention to forced migration in Africa. However, in the midst of my research over the summer of 2016, I found a Rwandan community silently struggling with the invocation of a Cessation Clause, built into the 1951 Geneva Convention, for all Rwandan refugees who arrived in asylum countries prior to 1998 and who had not been resettled. They feared this clause would cause the majority to lose their refugee status at the end of 2017. As many had hedged their bets on resettlement, they were at a loss of what to do next, after decades of waiting, and what now felt like rejection of the very foundation of their fears of returning home. Intrigued, I shifted my focus.

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