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Asylum and exile. A history of the distinction between migrants / refugees

Karen
Akoka

Karen Akoka is a political scientist and sociologist. Her work focuses, among other things, on the sociology of immigration, exile and the politics of asylum and hospitality.

On April 12 2021 we had the great pleasure of hosting a virtual CRASH conference with political scientist and sociologist Karen Akoka, fresh from her publication in November of “Asylum and Exile. A History of the Refugee/Migrant Distinction" (La Découverte, 2020). The author describes and analyzes the trajectory of OFPRA, the French institution founded in 1952 and responsible for granting refugee status; she provides an insight into how the history of the distinction between migrants and refugees was established in France.

Why is this book important? Since 2015 particularly, the public debate on the migratory movements observed at Europe's borders has been anchored on the question of how best to qualify migrant persons: are they refugees eligible for the protection provided by international conventions and European laws, or are they economic migrants who would have no claim to remain in Europe?

While many of us see these categories as self-evident, Karen Akoka shows, through her immersion within OFPRA, to what extent these definitions are constructions of political and diplomatic power relations. Thus, for the author, the current decline in the rate of recognition of refugee status is less related to the transformation of the profile of migrants than to asylum policies in a context where migration is perceived as a problem. 

Karen Akoka is also interested in the role of the individuals who make up OFPRA, from its first employees, themselves nationals of the countries of origin of the people they had to decide on, to the following generations of civil servants and employees, with varying degrees of activism, to the graduates and bureaucrats concerned with indicators. Beyond its central purpose, "Asylum and Exile" allows us to understand how public policies, particularly with the emergence of "new public management", have contributed to shaping the "refugee" as we know him in France today. 

Summary

  • Presentation
  • Migrants / refugees: a socio-historical and ethnographic study on the OFPRA
  • Highly political definitions that change over time
  • From the 1950s to the end of the 1980s: a controlled form of non-control
  • The turn of the 90s: the construction of immigration as a problem
  • The present day: neoliberal management and the glorification of asylum
  • How to explain the fall in the rate of recognition of the refugee status?

Questions and conclusion 

  • Presenting the book to the OFPRA and the question of open migration policies
  • The emergence of the asylum seeker category
  • The Geneva Convention and the use of demography control
  • The financial cost of acceptance, UNHCR’s influence and OFPRA’s independence
  • What solutions to this issue, OFPRA’s place within the State apparatus, the term "exile" and the National Court of Asylum (CNDA)
  • Economic violence as a cause of migration
  • Refugee status from one country to another and the proportion of OQTF orders (obligation to leave French territory)
  • The question of assimilation and the social context
  • The role of NGOs and public authorities in the management of exiled persons
  • Conclusion 

To cite this content :
Karen Akoka , Asylum and exile. A history of the distinction between migrants / refugees, 12 April 2021, URL : http://msf-crash.org/en/conferences-debates/asylum-and-exile-history-distinction-between-migrants-refugees

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