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Title:The fraudulent family: humanitarianism, security, and kinship in refugee resettlement from Kenya
Author(s):Balakian, Sophia Ann
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Gottlieb, Alma; Moodie, Ellen
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Dominguez, Virginia; Brennan, James
Department / Program:Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
United States
Abstract:Based on fieldwork with Somali and Congolese refugees, and with United Nations, NGO (non-governmental organization) and government officials in Nairobi, Kenya (22 months) and Columbus, Ohio (5 months), the dissertation is an ethnography of refugee resettlement processes. Moving between refugee communities and the patchwork of bureaucratic institutions that govern and aid them, the dissertation takes as its focal point discourses of fraud and anti-fraud practices that illuminate contemporary struggles over rights to mobility. More centrally, I argue that “the family”—as symbol, organizing principle, and network of moral obligations—lies at the heart of these contestations. In 2008, over 80% of refugees—largely located in Kenya—“failed” DNA tests performed by the US government in an initiative designed to assess fraud in its Refugee Family Reunification Program. Subsequently, DNA testing became a permanent component of the program. While the US government has narrowed the definition of “family,” making it testable and therefore less vulnerable to so-called fraud, refugees themselves continue to rely on more expansive networks of social care. Such networks emerge from both long-standing practices, but also more recent forces of political violence and displacement in postcolonial Africa. Refugees’ obligations to assist members of these social networks, thus, conflict with humanitarian programs’ imperatives to aid and resettle the refugees deemed most worthy—a category tied up in ideas about the nuclear, biological family. Refugee resettlement is structured by competing claims: protecting refugees on one hand, and protecting national security and Euro-American humanitarian ideals on the other. “The family” constitutes a central locus of these dual claims, treated both as an object of special care and of intense scrutiny. Taking fraud, including “family composition fraud,” as a crucial category, I move critical approaches to kinship to the center of the study of humanitarianism and securitization, while charting the ways in which global refugee resettlement policies shape the borders of transnational communities. In doing so, I argue that contemporary humanitarian policies prioritize not only particular kinds of identities, but also particular kinds of social relations.
Issue Date:2017-04-20
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Sophia Balakian
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-08-10
Date Deposited:2017-05

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