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Rethinking refugeehood: statelessness, repatriation, and refugee agency


Hannah Arendt's characterisation of the refugee as rightless and stateless has become a touchstone for scholars grappling with the nature of forced migration and exile. While aspects of Arendt's depiction continue to resonate, the notion of refugees as stateless, rightless ‘scum of the earth’ is now in many cases anachronistic, and no longer clearly reflects the challenges now faced by the majority of the world's refugees. This is attributable to structural changes in the refugee regime, particularly the increased focus on repatriation and the reconstitution of the relationship between refugees and their states of origin, a possibility largely unforeseen by Arendt. Drawing on the example of the Guatemalan repatriation movement, this article contends that indiscriminately portraying refugees as stateless represents a potential disservice to the displaced, as it may inadvertently undermine refugees' claims against their states of origin for the redress of their rights as citizens. There is a need to expand theorising on refugees from a narrow focus on the refugee as rightless and stateless to a broader conception of the refugee as a bearer of claims for the renegotiation of her relationship with her state.

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Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
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