The Politics of Asylum Among Eritrean Refugees in Italy
My dissertation investigates how hospitality among Eritreans is criminalized by Europe’s border security system. Eritreans create autonomous structures of care to confront the securitization of European borders and the discriminatory distribution of resources in Italy. When prosecutors accuse refugees of illegal squatting and human trafficking, they misunderstand refugee solidarity as exploitative and profit seeking. Using profit to distinguish trafficking from humanitarianism develops during the movement to abolish slavery. My dissertation extends abolitionist debates, about the co-imbrication of humanitarian sentiment with the rise of industrial capitalism, by showing how this logic is used to define humanitarianism as non-for-profit. I argue that the economies of care Eritrean refugees rely upon to seek asylum have their own cultural histories and humanitarian paradigms are inadequate to evaluate them. By bringing abolitionist debates to bear on Europe’s asylum system my work reveals a fundamental contradiction faced by refugees who have the right to seek asylum but no legitimate means to arrive at sites of refuge. My work extends postcolonial scholarship on refugees in Europe by showing how Eritreans articulate political conflict about sovereignty through the political asylum system. My dissertation shows how political conflict in the Eritrean diaspora, coupled with structural inequality in Italy, influenced the politics of a human trafficking case against certain Eritrean refugees. My work exposes bias in humanitarian practices that lead to cultural misunderstanding and criminalization.
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