Spaces of freedom: migrant suspension, governance and subversion

Much work in refugee studies proceeds from the assumption that refugee movements are caused by a breakdown of governance, and that the task of refugee policy makers and refugee scholars is to develop improved systems of governance that can ‘rescue’ refugees from their plight. In this narrative, the refugee often becomes – perhaps inadvertently – objectified as a passive victim in need of ‘protection’ by international actors. In this paper, I argue on the contrary that it is the development within the EU of supposedly ‘good governance’ around migration management that has contributed to the suspension of refugee protection and of refugees themselves along the borders of the European Union, and the denial of the possibility of asylum. Yet what is interesting is the rising incidence of ‘self-governance’ mechanisms amongst such suspended people at the gates of the European Union. The theoretical implication is that even ‘suspension’ contains the possibility and opportunity for renewal and innovation in governance, but in a way that challenges and even potentially undermines state-led initiatives. This is consistent with Arendt’s notion of the capacity for reinvention being central to the human condition, rather than Agamben’s conceptualisation of ‘suspended’ groups as being vulnerable to exclusion to the point that they become ‘non-persons’.

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