Who stands to gain and lose from peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea?

This week in North Philly Notes, Jennifer Riggan, author of The Struggling State, and Amanda Poole write about Eritrea and Ethiopia’s new peace deal in this article reposted from Middle East Eye.

On 9 July 2018, in a historic meeting in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, and Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afewerki, signed an agreement on peace and friendship, officially ending their almost two-decades-long cold war. To reach this point, on 5 June, Ethiopia finally accepted a peace agreement that both countries had signed 18 years earlier.

Following two weeks of what appeared to be total silence, in his 20 June Eritrean Martyrs Day speech, President Afewerki responded favourably to Prime Minister Ahmed. Since then, events have proceeded rapidly.

A game changer

Following an emotionally evocative visit by a high-level Eritrean delegation to Addis Ababa, Prime Minister Ahmed travelled to Asmara. The prime minister’s visit to Asmara was rife with symbolism and emotion as thousands of Eritreans filled the streets of Asmara while Eritreans and Ethiopians in Ethiopia were visibly moved as they witnessed images of the Ethiopian and Eritrean flags flying together.

Most significantly, within moments of signing the agreement, phone lines between the two countries opened up for the first time in 20 years, connecting people across borders to a momentous historical event. On 15 July, President Afwerki visited Ethiopia for the first time in 22 years, coinciding with the opening of the old Eritrean embassy in Addis Ababa.

The emotional significance of this moment of peace between the two countries cannot be dismissed nor can its potential

Commentators, analysts and diplomats have hailed the peace agreement as a game changer that will lead to openness, benevolence and cooperation benefiting Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, and Africa and the Middle East more broadly.

The emotional significance of this moment of peace between the two countries cannot be dismissed nor can its potential. It mends broken friendships and sutures together ruptured identities. It allows Eritreans and Ethiopians to think of each other as brothers and sisters and gives many citizens of both countries a much-needed and long-awaited sense of hope.

But does everyone stand to gain from peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea? The benefits are potentially greater to some than to others.

Arab allies’ role

At the center of peace negotiations is the sleepy southern Eritrean port of Assab bordering Djibouti at the mouth of the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, strategically located at the southern mouth of the Red Sea.

The United Arab Emirates has expressed a keen interest in Assab and stands to gain a great deal from Eritrean and Ethiopian cooperation over port usage. Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous country and one of its fastest-growing economies.

With a burgeoning textile industry, the country has been desperate for expanded sea access. Prior to the beginning of the border war with Eritrea in 1998, Assab served as Ethiopia’s main port. Since the war began, Ethiopia invested heavily in Djibouti but has found that arrangement insufficient for its growing industries.

Although Assab is an indisputable part of Eritrean territory, the fact that Eritrea’s northern port of Massawa is sufficient for its shipping needs meant that Assab largely fell into disuse when the border war broke out until the United Arab Emirates leased it in 2016.

While reports show that UAE has developed the port for military use related to the war in Yemen, the port has a great deal of untapped commercial potential. Thus, UAE is well positioned to benefit once Ethiopia begins using the port to its full potential.

 It is not surprising that UAE is reported to be a key player in the peace deal although the specifics of its role are not entirely clear

A number of actors played a key role in bringing about peace, most notably Ethiopia and Eritrea themselves. Arab allies also played a key role. Saudi Arabia and UAE, on good terms with both countries, played a bridging role between the two. It is not surprising that UAE is reported to be a key player in the peace deal although the specifics of its role are not entirely clear.

The Eritrean president visited UAE in early July just as peace was being negotiated. And UAE recently gave Ethiopia $1bn to alleviate currency shortages, a move that coincided with the resumption of Ethiopian diplomatic relations with Eritrea. One of the five provisions of the recently signed agreement on peace and friendship notes the opening up of the port for Ethiopian use.

Struggling State_smLeft in the cold

Meanwhile, other stakeholders may fare less well in the peace agreement. Djibouti, arguably, may be unhappy with these arrangements having provided Ethiopia with a port since 1998.Assab has been effectively isolated since the border war began, giving Djibouti something of a monopoly over strategic control over the Bab-el-Mandab strait and enabling it to attract key investments and political alliances.

But there are others who will potentially be left in the cold as Eritrea and Ethiopia warm up to each other. While Ethiopians have been gleefully waiting to board flights to Eritrea, Eritreans in Eritrea are unsure whether they will be allowed to leave and Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia are wary of whether the country will be a place that they can ever return to.

It is expected that peace between the two countries will lead to economic benefits to both Eritrea and Ethiopia as commerce, trade and tourism crosses the border. Ethiopian airlines flights to Asmara resumed on 18 July and were full, but social media reports suggested that only 80 people were on the return flight.

Given Eritrea’s travel restrictions, it is not surprising that there would be much more traffic to Asmara than from it. To leave Eritrea legally, Eritreans are required to have exit visas, which are almost impossible to acquire. Many welcome an open border if it leads to increased mobility for Eritreans, but this will require the Eritrean government to alter longstanding practices of restricting population movements. Unlike Ethiopians, Eritreans may not benefit from these newly opened travel routes.

Refugees are another population who may not benefit from peace. Open borders and increased mobility between the two countries are a source of concern and fear for many of the 160,000 Eritrean refugees hosted by Ethiopia, many of whom live in camps close to the border. Refugees voice concerns about protection of political asylees when the nearby border opens up and representatives of the regime in Asmara are free to travel across that border into Ethiopia.

Some of those political asylees were labelled as political dissidents while still in Eritrea, leading to their flight. Some have aligned themselves directly or indirectly with Eritrean opposition groups who until now were supported by Ethiopia.

A greater number of refugees fear repercussions that could amount to a witch hunt for political dissidents should Eritrean spies or officials have access to the camps, some of which are open and easily accessible to major roadways.

Many Eritrean refugees are fearful that their relative safety which has been guaranteed by the enmity between the two countries will be eroded as camps and urban spaces become penetrable by agents of the Eritrean government. Ironically, peace may make refugee lives in Ethiopia less peaceful.

Peace questions

Along with protection concerns, increased mobility between the two countries raises other issues for refugees, such as the continuation of the prima facia basis for granting Eritreans refugee status in Ethiopia. Will Eritreans who currently have political asylum for their opposition to the regime in Asmara continue to be protected in Ethiopia? Or will Ethiopia become a place, like Sudan, where they are vulnerable to capture and forced return by the Eritrean military?

On the other hand, some refugees wonder if the presence of an Eritrean embassy in Addis Ababa might help them. Refugees needing documents, particularly passports, to reunify with family members in other countries, have not been able to get them in Ethiopia.

Many have travelled to Uganda or Kenya to visit an Eritrean embassy where they are required to sign a letter apologising for leaving the country, admitting that they left for economic rather than political reasons, accepting punishment upon their return and agreeing to pay the two percent tax to the government, all in exchange for consular services.

A handful of refugees seem to be looking ahead towards repatriation. Some worry about whether it will be truly voluntary. Others wonder what resources will be provided for them to facilitate their return home. Almost all express concerns for their safety and the desire to see peace, and the chance to live free of government harassment in Eritrea, not only between the two countries.

Considering the Eritrean state operates on a logic of control and continues to deny that citizens who have fled are refugees in need of asylum, the safe and voluntary return of refugees currently residing in Ethiopia seems uncertain.

There is no doubt that peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia will change things in the region giving Ethiopia much-coveted sea access, boosting the economies of both countries possibly to the benefit of its Arab allies such as UAE. But closer to home, peace raises a number of questions that have yet to be answered as Eritreans wonder whether peace will benefit them.

– Dr. Jennifer Riggan is Associate Professor of International Studies at Arcadia University.

– Dr. Amanda Poole is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Both have been researching Eritrea for two decades and have been engaged in research on Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia for the past two years. 

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Reckoning with Independence and Partition in India, 70 Years On

 

This week in North Philly Notes, Kavita Daiya, author of Violent Belongingswrites about participating in the inaugural panel of a landmark event held Aug 4-6, 2017 in Mumbai, India, called “Remembering Partition.” 

“Remembering Partition” revolved around the memories and legacies of the 1947 Partition of India during decolonization from British rule. The 1947 Partition was a unique event: within a span of nine months, the British decision to divide India left approximately two million dead and between 12 and 16 million people displaced. As India celebrated the seventieth anniversary of its independence on August 15, 2017, this event was intended to be a public invitation to remember that this independence came with a price: the price of partition, paid by the millions who lost homes, lives, families, and belonging in 1947.

“Remembering Partition” was the first, three-day long, sustained, multi-disciplinary and public dialogue that reckoned with the Partition, ever held—in India or the world.  Envisioned and curated by the Lab’s visionary director Parmesh Shahani, “Remembering Partition” was hosted by the Godrej India Culture Lab in a cutting edge campus in suburban Mumbai, and involved over seven exhibits of art installations, refugees’ letters, objects, and fashion that explored the Partition experience; it also presented panel presentations and dialogue over three days with scholars, writers, filmmakers, artists, fashion designers, actors, activists, and Partition witnesses who shared memories of the mass migrations during 1947.

The speakers included Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis from a range of fields, like Sharmeen Obaid, Lalita Ramdas, Salima Hashmi, Nandita Das, Vishwajyoti Ghosh (editor of  This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition), Anusha Yadav (The Indian Memory Project), Nina Sabnani, Tanvir Mokammel, and Ramesh Sippy. In addition, local and global thought leaders and innovative producers from different industries and walks of life attended. Many speakers highlighted feminist and queer perspectives of the Partition; others also reflected on the enduring legacies of the Partition, from India-Pakistan conflict to Kashmir—something that I pointed to in Violent Belongings. The panels at this event drew over 600 attendees every day, from across four generations; it was standing room only at the state-of-the art auditorium. People from all walks of life, from scholars and artists, to activists, senior citizens, students, and school children showed up to hear and participate in this important, and long-overdue dialogue on the 1947 Partition.

A slideshow of images from the events can be found here:

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My panel “Archiving Partition,” inaugurated the event on August 5.  Speaking along with activists like Guneeta Bhalla (founder of the 1947 Partition Archive), Aanchal Malhotra, and Mallika Ahluwalia, I discussed the archive of literature, film, and journalism my book examines, to explore the cultural representation of Partition from 1947 till 2007.  I discussed why Partition urgently continues to resonate today for both India, as well as South Asian America. Issues explored in my talk included the lessons learned from the refugee experience of the Partition, and how revisiting Partition could enable us to reinvent “the politics of the present.”  

daiyacomps.inddIn Violent Belongings, one of the things I pointed out was how the institutional censorship of refugees’ voices in the early independence period, meant that until the 1990s, the experience of millions of Partition refugees was largely marginalized, if not ignored, in Indian history.  This silencing was both acknowledged and undone in this interdisciplinary dialogue  “Remembering Partition,” which extended and complemented activities like the “Voices of Partition” events with Partition witnesses regularly organized by Bhalla’s transnational, oral history online archive 1947 Partition Archive since 2013 in India, the United States, Pakistan, and the UK.

This was a great start to a robust and path-breaking three days of dialogue and artistic exploration that honored Partition refugees’ experience, identified Partition’s many legacies, and pointed to new directions in memorializing the most momentous event in the modern history of the Indian subcontinent. Gender-based violence and how women were differently impacted by the Partition were central to the story told by Violent Belongings. This focus was complemented by the art installation at this event “Well of Remembrance.”  The installation, which partially recreated a brick well with a white fabric suspended from the ceiling, memorialized the fact that thousands of women jumped into wells during Partition to avoid sexual violence, and lost their lives in the process.  The fabric symbolized the long scarves or sarees women often wore in northern India, as if it was falling into the well.  The installation served as a stark reminder of the differential price that women paid in this geo-political and religious conflict created by the British division of the Indian subcontinent.

Temple University Press titles now available through Knowledge Unlatched

We’re pleased to announce the release of our latest round of titles available through Knowledge Unlatched.  The following books are now freely available on OAPEN and HathiTrust.

Hybridity, or the Cultural Logic of Globalizationby Marwan Kraidy

The intermingling of people and media from different cultures is a communication-based phenomenon known as hybridity. Drawing on original research from Lebanon to 1770_regMexico and analyzing the use of the term in cultural and postcolonial studies (as well as the popular and business media), Marwan Kraidy offers readers a history of the idea and a set of prescriptions for its future use.  Kraidy analyzes the use of the concept of cultural mixture from the first century A.D. to its present application in the academy and the commercial press. The book’s case studies build an argument for understanding the importance of the dynamics of communication, uneven power relationships, and political economy as well as culture, in situations of hybridity. Kraidy suggests a new framework he developed to study cultural mixture—called critical transculturalism—which uses hybridity as its core concept, but in addition, provides a practical method for examining how media and communication work in international contexts.

Just a Dog: Understanding Animal Cruelty and Ourselves, by Arnold Arluke

1837_regPsychiatrists define cruelty to animals as a psychological problem or personality disorder. Legally, animal cruelty is described by a list of behaviors. In Just a Dog, Arnold Arluke argues that our current constructs of animal cruelty are decontextualized—imposed without regard to the experience of the groups committing the act. Yet those who engage in animal cruelty have their own understandings of their actions and of themselves as actors. In this fascinating book, Arluke probes those understandings and reveals the surprising complexities of our relationships with animals. Just a Dog draws from interviews with more than 250 people, including humane agents who enforce cruelty laws, college students who tell stories of childhood abuse of animals, hoarders who chronically neglect the welfare of many animals, shelter workers who cope with the ethics of euthanizing animals, and public relations experts who use incidents of animal cruelty for fundraising purposes. Through these case studies, Arluke shows how the meaning of “cruelty” reflects and helps to create identities and ideologies.

Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus: Immigrant Incorporation in New Destinations, by Stefanie Chambers

In the early 1990s, Somali refugees arrived in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Later in the decade, an additional influx of immigrants arrived in a second destination of Columbus, Ohio. These refugees found low-skill jobs in

2435_regwarehouses and food processing plants and struggled as social “outsiders,” often facing discrimination based on their religious traditions, dress, and misconceptions that they are terrorists. The immigrant youth also lacked access to quality educational opportunities.In Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus, Stefanie Chambers provides a cogent analysis of refugees in Midwestern cities where new immigrant communities are growing. Her comparative study uses qualitative and quantitative data to assess the political, economic, and social variations between these urban areas. Chambers examines how culture and history influenced the incorporation of Somali immigrants in the U.S., and recommends policy changes that can advance rather than impede incorporation. Her robust investigation provides a better understanding of the reasons these refugees establish roots in these areas, as well as how these resettled immigrants struggle to thrive.

Influential sexologist and activist Magnus Hirschfeld founded Berlin’s Institute of Sexual Sciences in 1919 as a home and workplace to study homosexual rights activism and 2432_regsupport transgender people. It was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. This episode in history prompted Heike Bauer to ask, Is violence an intrinsic part of modern queer culture? The Hirschfeld Archives answers this critical question by examining the violence that shaped queer existence in the first part of the twentieth century.  Hirschfeld himself escaped the Nazis, and many of his papers and publications survived. Bauer examines his accounts of same-sex life from published and unpublished writings, as well as books, articles, diaries, films, photographs and other visual materials, to scrutinize how violence—including persecution, death and suicide—shaped the development of homosexual rights and political activism. The Hirschfeld Archives brings these fragments of queer experience together to reveal many unknown and interesting accounts of LGBTQ life in the early twentieth century, but also to illuminate the fact that homosexual rights politics were haunted from the beginning by racism, colonial brutality, and gender violence.

Comprehending Columbine, by Ralph W. Larkin

On April 20, 1999, two Colorado teenagers went on a shooting rampage at Columbine High School. That day, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed twelve fellow students and a teacher, as well as wounding twenty-four other people, before they killed themselves. Although there have been other books written about the tragedy, this is the first serious, impartial investigation into the cultural, environmental, and psychological causes of the Columbine massacre. Based on first-hand interviews and a 1846_regthorough reading of the relevant literature, Ralph Larkin examines the numerous factors that led the two young men to plan and carry out their deed. For Harris and Klebold, Larkin concludes, the carnage was an act of revenge against the “jocks” who had harassed and humiliated them, retribution against evangelical students who acted as if they were morally superior, an acting out of the mythology of right-wing paramilitary organization members to “die in a blaze of glory,” and a deep desire for notoriety. Rather than simply looking at Columbine as a crucible for all school violence, Larkin places the tragedy in its proper context, and in doing so, examines its causes and meaning.

Somalis in the Twin Cites and Columbus in the Twin Cities

SomalisinTC-photo-by-Jennifer-Simonson

From left to right, Jaylani Hussein, Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, Stefanie Chambers, R. T. Rybak. Photo by Jennifer Simonson.

Rain Taxi presented a discussion featuring authors Stefanie Chambers (Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus, Temple University Press) and Ahmed Ismail Yusuf (Somalis in Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Society Press), and moderated by Jaylani Hussein, Executive Director of CAIR-Minnesota. The event was introduced by former mayor of Minneapolis R. T. Rybak, author of Pothole Confidential (University of Minnesota Press). The event was co-presented with Trinity College and Minneapolis Foundation.

Somalis_03-lr-407x271

From left to right, Jaylani Hussein, Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, and Stefanie Chambers. Photo by Jennifer Simonson

Somalis_05-lowres-407x271

Stefanie Chambers and Ahmed Ismail Yusuf sign books.. Photo by Jennifer Simonson.

The Twin Cities are home to the largest Somali American population in the United States, and this community has made important contributions to the political, economic, and social fabric of the region. Given the current uncertainty about immigrant and refugee policy, combined with the challenges the Muslim community faces under the current administration, Rain Taxi hosted this important event at Open Book in Minneapolis. Book sales were handled by Milkweed Books.

Temple University Press is having a Back-to-School SALE!

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Why Partition survivors in the US believe it’s vital to keep talking about the trauma of 1947

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost an essay on Partition survivors in the U.S. by Violent Belongings author Kavita Daiya that was recently published on the website Scroll.in

Last week, in the birthplace of America ­– the city of Philadelphia – Indian and Pakistani Americans gathered to share memories of the birth of India and Pakistan.

The unique community event was aimed at generating a new public dialogue on the 1947 Partition migrations through storytelling and memory. In the intrepid gallery called Twelve Gates Arts, devoted to South Asia-related arts, the event Voices of Partition presented witness testimonies from both India and Pakistan. Co-hosted by online digital video project, The 1947 Partition Archive, and part of a global series,Voices of Partition was an unexpected success – a flood of RSVPs meant that the gallery had to double its seats; people were standing, sitting on the floor in the aisles, just squeezing into the space to listen.

daiyacomps.inddFragmented memories

Three local South Asian American senior citizens – Hindu and Muslim – shared their memories of migrating as children across the new and bloody borders of India and Pakistan. Sagar and Reena Banka were originally from Lyallpur and Lahore, and Khurshid Bukhari was originally from Patiala. They described their fragmented, episodic memories of how they heard about ethnic violence in August 1947, how their parents decided to leave their homes, and how they slowly rebuilt their lives, in the shadow of homes and friends lost, in new countries. Many commonalities emerged across their stories: All said their parents thought that they were moving temporarily – until things calmed down. None imagined today’s closed borders, and the wars the two countries have fought.

Unlike other moments of collective historical trauma like the bombing of Japan during World War II or the Holocaust, the Partition experience has not been institutionally memorialised, said Guneeta Bhalla, founder and director of The 1947 Partition Archive, in her framing remarks. Approximately two million people were killed, and over 12 million displaced, within nine months during the division of India. But there is no equivalent to the Hiroshima memorial, or the Holocaust memorial, for Partition.

This inspired Bhalla to start gathering and recording witness testimonies in 2010. Today, the archive has gathered 2,500 testimonies, has offices in five countries, and its goal is to gather 10,000 stories by 2017 from a generation we are fast losing to age. Supported by grant funding as well as private citizens from three continents, the project indicates the global impact of Partition’s migrations. Steadily, this archive is creating a historical record of the price that millions of ordinary people paid for freedom in 1947.

Forging new bonds

As the gentle and eloquent speakers narrated their experiences and shared old black and white photos, a new and palpable emotional community was forged between the speakers and their multi-generational audience. The witnesses shared what they remembered of that harrowing time-colored by their childhood. They recalled the stigma of being derisively called “fugees” – because many didn’t know how to pronounce the word refugee. They also reflected on the lessons of that experience of becoming refugees.

DaiyablogSagar Banka said their experience was mirrored today in the Syrian refugees’ reception in Europe. He urged the audience that while Syrians were being derided in the media as refugees, people needed to recognise that they are more than that label. They are, as his father was, teachers, or perhaps doctors, engineers, lawyers… human beings. Pointing to his and his wife’s contributions to American society, he called for a more humane and inclusive response to today’s refugees so that they would also have an opportunity to become contributing members of society.

Bukhari’s harrowing tale of a narrow escape from Amritsar, to which her Patiala-based family had fled after increasing violence, ended with her reminiscing about a certain kachori stall in Patiala. She said, “Oh, I would love to eat those kachoris again.” Someone from the audience warmly replied, “I’m from Patiala, and that kachori-wala is still there!” In the question and answer session, others in the audience, who had also migrated in 1947, started sharing their stories, their journeys. A 21-year-old South Asian American young man noted that when he discovered that his grandfather had migrated to Pakistan during Partition, it had transformed his sense of his identity: “I guess we were refugees. Refugees.”

Delhi calling

What emerged in this diasporic gathering of those who once were refugees was an eagerness to remember that experience without rancour toward the other religious community. For instance, Sagar Banka affirmed that beyond religion, it was the Punjabi language that, here in the US, bound him in closer friendships with Pakistani Punjabis. The shared familiar itineraries of beloved cities (Lahore, Dehradun, Patiala) and schools spun new inter-religious, inter-national emotional bonds in this contingent community, flecked with the red and gold paintings of the Lahore-based artist Komail Aijazuddin.

Daiyablog2Established in 2011, the goal of Twelve Gates Arts is, in its founder Aisha Khan’s words, to “create and promote projects that cross geographic and cultural boundaries. The gates refer to the fortified gates that walled many ancient cities such as Delhi, Lahore, Jerusalem, and Rhodes – inside which lay the heart of each city’s art and culture. Through this Voices of Partition event, Bhalla and Khan opened the gates of our political borders and divided cultures. The dialogue allowed people, through the sharing of remembrances past, to not only see that Indians and Pakistanis have much more in common than our politicians would like us to acknowledge, but also to forge new relations of peace between us”.

This Voices of Partition is not the first event, nor will it be the last. On April 24, The 1947 Partition Archive will host its first Voices of Partition event in India in Delhi. They had hoped it would attract 100 attendees – they have over 1,000 waiting to register. On Facebook, they have 4,500 interested in attending. It seems this submerged history is still very much alive today, and people want to tell and hear these refugee stories. They will need a bigger venue.

Kavita Daiya holds the NEH Chair in the Humanities at Albright College for the academic year 2015-2016. She is the author of Violent Belongings: Partition, Gender, and National Culture in Postcolonial India

Chronicling the unfinished odyssey of Bronx Cambodians

This week, Eric Tang, author of Unsettled likens the Cambodian refugees that are featured in his book to the current exodus of Syrian refugees to show connections of race, gender, and activism.

After they survived the Khmer Rouge genocide of the mid-to-late 1970s, followed by several years of confinement in international refugee camps, as many as 10,000 Southeast Asian refugees arrived to the Bronx during the 1980s and 1990s.

Unsettled chronicles the unfinished odyssey of Bronx Cambodians, closely following one woman and her family for several years as they both survive and resist their literal insertion into the Bronx “hyperghetto.” The term hyperghetto refers to the postwar structural decomposition of U.S. cities resulting from massive and compulsory unemployment, public and private disinvestment, and the hyper-segregation and confinement of the city’s poorest Black and Latino residents. It serves as a prime example of how late-capitalism and racial democracy failed far too many in the post-Civil Rights era.

Unsettled_smI wrote Unsettled  to reveal how Cambodian refugee resettlement to the United States did not mark the closing of the refugee sojourn, followed by the opening of a new era of peace and stability for those who fled their homeland. I wanted to show the ways in which the refugees remained displaced, their sojourn unclosed, owing to the false promises of federal policy makers and the unscrupulous actions of their handlers. Politicians talked boldly about delivering refugees into the arms of the free market, but there was never a meaningful economic plan tethered to U.S. refugee resettlement policy. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) offered only one-year of housing and job training assistance to refugees before they were cut loose, told to make it on their own. Meanwhile local resettlement agencies placed Cambodian refugees into ruinous housing units in some of the most economically marginalized neighborhoods in the Bronx. According to the past three decennial censuses, Southeast Asian refugees have held some of the highest welfare and poverty rates of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. Among Cambodian refugees living in New York City, 42.8 percent were living in poverty, 23.9 percent were unemployed, and 62 percent had less than a high school education twenty years after their resettlement. Over the past three decades the vast majority of Bronx Cambodians have subsisted on welfare programs (or what remains of them).

Despite these harsh realities, many Bronx Cambodians engaged in activism. Unsettled explores how Bronx Cambodians resisted conditions of poverty, violence, and housing discrimination. It pays attention to the unique process whereby community members developed an analysis of their conditions, reached consensus on their collective needs, and sought meaningful political redress through community organizing and direct action. Today, such activism continues through the community’s younger generation—the children and grandchildren of refugees—led by organizations such as Mekong NYC. The organization’s work, as told by director and community organizer Chhaya Chhoum is featured in key chapters of the book.

As an urban ethnography, Unsettled offers a new kind of discussion on race and gender in the contemporary city, particularly as it relates to the welfare-dependent and jobless urban poor. In this way, it departs from the core thesis of seminal texts in the sociology of immigration that, in the decade following refugee resettlement, predicted the seamless transition of Cambodian refugees into American labor markets as well as their eventual assimilation into Anglo-American culture. It serves as a rebuttal to research that seeks to ideologically remove the refugee from the grips of a Black and Latino “underclass”—the sociological pejorative used to describe racialized inner city poverty. By examining the ongoing phenomena of refugee poverty—that is, the manner in which Cambodian refugees of the Bronx simultaneously subsist in the welfare state and the sweatshop economy—Unsettled complicates the fixed race and gender identities that structure common-sense notions of the city: the immigrant working-poor on the one hand, the domestic and welfare-dependent underclass on the other.

Finally, Unsettled poses questions that are relevant to the present moment. The current exodus of Syrian refugees represents the “biggest humanitarian emergency of our era,” according the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  Indeed, not since the Southeast Asian refugee crisis of the late-1970s and 1980s, have so many migrants from one region risked their lives, across land and sea, in search of asylum. Yet what happens after they are resettled to their new homelands? Have their struggles come to an end, or have they only just begun?

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