Antropologia Y Migracion

The Moral Judgment of Asylum Seekers in French Reception Centers (2008)

Carolina Kobelinsky


In the 1980s the boundaries between asylum seekers and immigrants have become blurred in the discourses as well as in the policies developed in France. Asylum has weakened and turned into what it is now called “suffered immigration”, the necessity of controlling flux and the promotion of a “chosen immigration”. In this context, refugee status became an almost exceptional resource: less than 20% of claims receive a positive answer. People who endanger their lives to leave, those who run away from death, those who have been persecuted or those escaping hunger; they are all labeled as “clandestines”. Mistrust surrounds every asylum seeker: politicians and the media talk about “true” and “false” refugees, emphasizing the difference between “genuine” refugees and “bogus” asylum seekers, in fact considered as “economic refugees”. The institutional treatment in reception centers cannot escape from suspicion and judgment either. The moral evaluation of asylum seekers is two-fold: on the one hand, there is a doubt about the truth of the story at the base of the refugee status’ application; on the other hand, asylum seekers are judged depending on their everyday activities and attitudes towards the institution and its members. Based on a long-lasting ethnographic study in centers for asylum seekers in the Parisian suburbs which are supported by the state and managed by NGOs, the aim of this paper is to explore the representations of those in need of asylum constructed by social workers and the way they operate in everyday interactions. I suggest three anthropological images of asylum seeker: the hero, the impostor, and the coper.


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