Constructing a Refugee: The State, NGOs and Gendered Experiences of Asylum in the Czech Republic
Department of Sociology University of Warwick Mannheim, Germany
The paper explores an institutionalised world that refugees inhabit in today's Europe. It argues that the institutional system that organises the reception of refugees and their settlement in a receiving country is based on historically and politically contingent constructions of "a refugee". It is based on research conducted in the Czech Republic - an emerging country of immigration and asylum at the semi-periphery of the European Union. It draws on qualitative empirical data generated in interviews and participant observations among state officials, intergovernmental and non-governmental workers, asylum seekers and refugees from Armenia, Belarus and Chechnya. The analysis brings together the key actors that shape the construction of "a refugee" and examines the key sites of the refugee system where this construction takes place: asylum and immigration legislation, refugee determination process, refugee camps and non-governmental spaces of assistance and public representation of refugees. "A refugee" is analysed as an idealised concept that underlies asylum policy-making; as an object of governance that shapes institutional practices; and as a lived and performed gendered experience that forms and transforms identities. The dominant view of refugees as people of little or no choice is challenged by presenting them as knowledgeable actors who act strategically in an unevenly contoured terrain of the refugee system.