The refugee ‘family’: Child fostering and mobility among Sierra Leonean refugees.

 While in camps, refugees are considered to be in social limbo, with life projects on hold. Humanitarian actors of the global aid regime further this static model of refugee life by employing a co-resident, kin-based definition of family when distributing aid. The identification system fails to recognize the spatial fluidity of families or the reciprocal obligations and rights of extended kin that supercede “refugee” status. Rather than assigning priority to nation-state and citizenship, many refugees see themselves primarily as embedded members of family networks that have spanned borders for generations. Ethnographic fieldwork among displaced Sierra Leonean Fula in Guinean refugee camps reveals refugees’ strategies of reforming family structures to further their life plans. Child fostering, while ostensibly an economic solution, involves strategic kin arrangements that are connected with the processes of acculturation and socialization. Children provide a link between communities and scattered family members, particularly for the Fula who continue to be translocal for economic and political reasons. The reconstitution of family in the camp setting illuminates the continued salience of marriage, parenthood, and responsibility towards children during displacement.

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