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Governing through paperwork

Examining the regulatory effects of documentary practices in a refugee settlement

Sophie Nakueira

Documents play an important role in the lives of refugees. However, little is known about the extent to which documents regulate the everyday lives of refugees and the anxieties of obtaining relevant paperwork for refugees seeking resettlement in the Global North. Although their lives are regulated by paperwork, refugees also use documents strategically to legitimise various claims and entitlements. This article shows how refugees interface with the administrative processes that seek to regulate their stay. Therefore, documentary practices become important tools through which processes and objectives of migration governance can be examined. This article seeks to contribute further insights on how the deployment of documents entrenches discourses of vulnerability, the role that paper regimes play in (re)producing processes of exclusion through administrative processes in humanitarian aid contexts and the revelations of documentary practices or paper regimes about those who govern and those who are governed by these practices.

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Sophie Nakueira

Nakivale, the oldest refugee camp in Uganda, hosts refugees fleeing various forms of political unrest from several African countries. Uganda’s humanitarian framework makes it an attractive place for refugees. Little is known about the role that humanitarian policies play in shaping interactions between different actors or the politics of accusation that emerges within this settlement. In a context in which the status of a refugee can confer preferential access to scarce resources, different refugee communities struggle to define themselves, their neighbours and kin in terms of the camp’s humanitarian language. Describing the everyday anxieties that define life in the camp, this article shows how accusations become powerful resources that refugees draw upon to meet the criteria for resettlement to a third country, but also how these forms of humanitarian assistance rely on processes of exclusion that create endemic accusations of corruption, criminality and even witchcraft.