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


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.

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

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