As the world confronts the largest refugee crisis since World War II, wealthy countries are being called upon to open their doors to the displaced, with the assumption that this will restore their prospects for a bright future. Refuge: How the State Shapes Human Potential (Princeton UP, 2022) follows Syrians who fled a brutal war in their homeland as they attempt to rebuild in countries of resettlement and asylum. Their experiences reveal that these destination countries are not saviors; they can deny newcomers’ potential by failing to recognize their abilities and invest in the tools they need to prosper.
Heba Gowayed spent three years documenting the strikingly divergent journeys of Syrian families from similar economic and social backgrounds during their crucial first years of resettlement in the United States and Canada and asylum in Germany. All three countries offer a legal solution to displacement, while simultaneously minoritizing newcomers through policies that fail to recognize their histories, aspirations, and personhood. The United States stands out for its emphasis on “self-sufficiency” that integrates refugees into American poverty, which, by design, is populated by people of color and marked by stagnation. Gowayed argues that refugee human capital is less an attribute of newcomers than a product of the same racist welfare systems that have long shaped the contours of national belonging.
Centering the human experience of displacement, Refuge shines needed light on how countries structure the potential of people, new arrivals or otherwise, within their borders.
Heba Gowayed is the Moorman-Simon Assistant Professor of Sociology at Boston University. You can find her on Twitter @hebagowayed
Alize Arıcan is a Postdoctoral Associate at Rutgers University’s Center for Cultural Analysis. She is an anthropologist whose research focuses on urban renewal, futurity, care, and migration in Istanbul, Turkey. Her work has been featured in Current Anthropology, City & Society, JOTSA, Radical Housing Journal, and entanglements. You can find her on Twitter @alizearican
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