The "Worthy" Refugee: Cash as a Diagnostic of "Xeno-Racism" and "Bio-Legitimacy".

Author:Boeyink, Clayton


The refugee regime structure follows a "xeno-racist" colonial genealogy. In this context, refugee cash transfers represent a biopolitical diagnostic, indicating where refugees are worthy or have the "bio-legitimacy" to reside. This article offers a brief genealogy of different iterations of cash operations, which include cash for repatriation at the end of the Cold War, cash for urban Iraqi refugees in Jordan following the second Gulf War, and the Tanzania government's recent decision to abruptly shut down a cash project in Nyarugusu refugee camp. Simply stated, where cash is allowed to flow, so too are refugees.


La structure du regime des refugies suit une genealogie coloniale >. Dans ce contexte, les transferts d'argent aux refugies representent un diagnostic biopolitique indiquant ou les refugies sont dignes ou ont la > de resider. Cet article propose une breve genealogie des differentes iterations des operations de transfert d'argent, dont le rapatriement d'argent a la fin de la Guerre froide; l'aide en especes pour les refugies urbains irakiens en Jordanie suite a la seconde Guerre du Golfe; et la decision recente du gouvernement tanzanien de brusquement mettre fin a un programme de transfert d'argent dans le camp de refugies de Nyarugusu. En bref, la ou l'argent est autorise a circuler, les refugies le sont egalement.


Filippo Grandi, un High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), announced in 2017, "Our cash support-- most in the form of multi-purpose grants--reached 2.5 million people in 2016, and for the first time exceeded in-kind assistance." (2) UNHCR has been a pioneer in institutionalizing humanitarian cash transfers, beginning with repatriation cash projects. (3) These return operations include one-off or time-limited cash payments for refugees to purchase their needs upon return. In 2008 UNHCR experimented with its first "care and maintenance" cash operations for Iraqi refugees in Amman, Jordan. "Care and maintenance" for refugee situations refer to ongoing and indefinite support for food, shelter, and other needs. Traditionally this has been addressed through in-kind donations, but now cash is increasingly prioritized by humanitarian policymakers because it is generally more cost-efficient than in-kind aid amidst limited humanitarian funding." I argue refugee cash transfers are not a neutral technical humanitarian intervention, but rather a diagnostic of "xeno-racism" following a colonial genealogy of mobility control where refugees are deemed worthy to reside. (5) Sivanandan defines xeno-racism as "a racism that is not just directed at those with darker skins, from the former colonial territories, but at the newer categories of the displaced, the dispossessed and the uprooted, who are beating at Western Europe's doors." (6) I extend this analysis to incorporate South-South refugee discriminations. To state it simply, where cash is allowed to flow, so too are refugees. This is not a criticism of the efficacy of cash transfers as an intervention per se. On the contrary, I have heard great praise for cash from refugee recipients in Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania and consider cash transfers as a more efficient and dignified way to deliver aid.

Coordinated primarily by UNHCR, the international refugee regime governs protracted refugee situations through many different modes, including food distribution, education, legal protection, and health care. Cash has been chosen as the locus of this article as a racialized indicator for two primary reasons. First, as the quote from High Commissioner Grandi shows, UNHCR has prioritized cash transfers as an institution. More broadly, the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, which included the most influential humanitarian donors and organizations, committed to furthering the use of cash in humanitarian settings. (7) Second, research from the Cash Barometer project identifying humanitarian recipients' attitudes toward cash around the world reveals that the vast majority of recipients favour receiving cash rather than in-kind goods. (8) Agreement from funders, implementers, and recipients denotes that any instances where cash is not used in protracted refugee situations will increasingly be considered an anomaly in need of explanation.

I submit that the fundamental racialized explanation for the refugee cash shutdowns and exclusions in Africa today are the continuities from colonialism of the racially and economically motivated control of African migrations and mobilities. This article interrogates the cash exclusion question empirically by first tracing the historical genealogy of the advent refugee cash transfers for repatriation at the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. The inclusion of cash for return for Cambodian and Afghan refugees but not for Eritreans demonstrates that the earliest cash transfers clearly reflect donors' geo-strategic priorities of moving refugees for specific ideological benefits to Western powers. Next, we follow the rise of cash for care and maintenance operations beginning with Iraqi refugees in Amman, Jordan, to the present. Today we see African states blocking cash interventions as xeno-racist tools to keep Sub-Sahara African (SSA) refugees out of cities and in the "bio-legitimate" space of camps. In the case of Tanzania, cash has been blocked in cities and camps to signal to refugees they are not worthy to reside anywhere in the country.

The selected cases since the end of the Cold War offer a brief history of refugee cash utilizing a truncated and non-epochal version of Michel Foucault's conceptualization of genealogy He calls "to identify the accidents, the minute deviations--or conversely, the complete reversals--the errors, the false appraisals, and the faulty calculations that gave birth to those things that continue to exist and have value for us." (9) I examine the "accidents" such as the rise of cash in Jordan, but also the "complete reversals" of cash shutdowns and exclusions in Africa in order to excavate "the various systems of subjection." (10) The article draws from more than 200 interviews from fieldwork trips in Tanzania between February 2017 and May 2018, primarily with camp residents, the Tanzanian host community surrounding the camp, as well as UNHCR, World Food Programme (WFP), implementing partner ngos, and Tanzanian government officials. Additional interviews with key individuals involved in cash transfers currently or in the past occurred in UNHCR headquarters in Geneva in April 2017, as well as through Skype. (11) The majority of refugee households were sampled by research assistants living in the camp through snowball sampling. Before examining the empirical cases of refugees and cash, we will recount the colonial strategies of mobility control in Africa and introduce the concepts of bio-legitimacy (12) and xeno-racism in the refugee regime today.

Xeno-Racism and Bio-Legitimacy

There have been attempts to "break the silence" on race in development practice and studies. (13) White argues, "The silence on race is a determining silence that both masks and marks its centrality to the development project." (14) The call to examine race in development was effectively taken up in a special issue of Progress in Development Studies edited by Uma Kothari. (15) Refugee studies have most notably grappled with racism in this journal, Refuge, in a special issue in 2001. This special issue utilized xeno-racism as a lens to analyze international migration policy in cases around the world. (16) The present article re-examines xeno-racism as situated by Mark Duffield to demonstrate the racialized nature of cash-based interventions for "non-insured" refugee populations. (17) Michel Foucault's theorization of discourse and power forms the bedrock of "post-development" critique. (18) In addition, his writings have inspired many migration and forced migration scholars, although his expansive oeuvre focuses little attention on these issues. (19) Duffield argues that sustainable development is a bio-political technology with xenoracist and colonial genealogy in order to root "non-insured" populations in the South. (20) Using Duffield's stance as a point of departure, this article diverges from a bio-political analysis to demonstrate through the genealogical method that refugee cash transfers are a diagnostic of how donors and host states judge where refugees have the "bio-legitimacy" to reside.

Foucault introduces bio-power and bio-politics in The History of Sexuality, describing epochal change from sovereign power to bio-power, which is "the ancient right to take life or let live ... replaced by a power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death." (21) Bio-power can be understood as "an anatomo-politics of the human body," (22) where government disciplines individuals' bodies. Bio-politics is a "series of interventions and regulatory controls: a biopolitics of the population." (23) Duffield critiques sustainable development using a bio-political analysis in two important ways that will be borrowed for this article. First, he links the colonial genealogy or "colonial present" of sustainable development today as a bio-political tool to foster self-reliance reminiscent of indirect rule during colonialism. (24) I extend this analysis further by pointing to the colonial practices of controlling movements of colonial subjects. Second, Duffield argues that the use of sustainable development by the North is also a xeno-racist bio-political apparatus to keep "non-insured" populations contained in the South. (25) I contend that African states are rehabilitating these colonial xeno-racist genealogies by disallowing cash for their non-insured refugee neighbours.

Near the end of the nineteenth century, colonial rule shifted from a violent and highly militarized direct form of rule to indirect rule where chiefs were backed as proxies to govern and exploit rural areas of the...

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