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The role of racialized diasporas in refugee sponsorship

The role of racialized diasporas in refugee sponsorship

Biftu Yousuf

How do racialized former refugees conceptualize, navigate, and experience their roles as private sponsors who resettle refugees to Canada? What are the goals and motivations that drive racialized former refugees to participate in Canada’s private refugee resettlement initiative? Are there distinct actions, activities, and contributions from racialized former refugees to private refugee sponsorship in Canada? These are the questions that SSHRC Doctoral Candidate, Biftu Yousuf, has taken up as central to her dissertation entitled Invisibilized Providers: The Role of Racialized Diasporas in Refugee Sponsorship.

Biftu’s research emerges from her observation of the scant attention in public discourse and academic literature about the roles of racialized former refugees as private sponsors. Her personal experience working alongside racialized diasporas – made up of formerly resettled refugees – prompted Biftu to deliberate the rationales behind their invisibilization in existing and emergent spaces of knowledge about private refugee resettlement in Canada. Those who have themselves been sponsored as refugees to Canada could arguably be the most well-placed and effective sponsors, and yet this phenomenon is hardly represented in existing scholarship. Biftu’s commitment to make visible the broader phenomenon of private refugee sponsorship undertaken by racialized diasporas will fill a gap in the existing literature on Canada’s refugee protection project.

An NVivo generated cluster analysis diagram based on the literature that informs Biftu's research.

The racialization of diasporas proceeds through various avenues that often take the form of racism diffused across multiple spaces, places, and scales. Biftu’s research scrutinizes how diasporas made up of former refugees are racialized through security and protection discourses. Defending the integrity of the state’s territorial space and national security, the politics of protection can manifest in ways that render racialized diasporas as threats. The potential consequences of such politics are far-reaching, beginning with their capacity to target, condemn, and racially script individuals to justify the externalization of refugee protection. Additionally, the political rhetoric used by heads of state in many global North countries to demonize (im)migrants in the name of protecting state sovereignty perpetuates a culture of fear and hate. Even in Canada, racialized diasporas have been viewed with suspicion as security threats and understood as forces that protract homeland conflicts. However, such understandings are state-centric, and to focus solely on them undermines the perspectives and roles of non-state actors in facilitating refugee protection.

Biftu’s research scales refugee protection to that of the person affected by displacement, as advanced through feminist geopolitics, to claim back prevailing discourses from state-centric perspectives. Feminist politics of security that includes the civilian body and decentres a focus on state security offers a productive avenue for making visible refugees’ own sense of safety. The problematization of ‘security’ and ‘protection’ as discourses related to private refugee resettlement allows her research to foreground an orienting lens that prioritizes ‘agency’ as the gateway to self-authorized safety. This refugee-centred approach is particularly germane to research interventions that seek to challenge hegemonic ontologies and epistemologies of refugee protection.

Emergent insights from participants in Biftu's research.

Biftu is currently undertaking her research in three Canadian provinces: BC, AB, and ON. Canada is the obvious site for this research as it has long been a destination for persecuted refugees from around the globe. Following appeals in anthropology and geography to ‘study up,’ Biftu’s research interrogates the use of Canada’s private refugee sponsorship pathway for refugee protection itself by eliciting the voices of racialized diaspora sponsors. Her research centres on former refugees’ as knowing, embodied subjects who are autonomous experts in the decisions that have brought them to Canada. As a methodological imperative, ‘studying up’ necessitates a research design equipped to examine the complexities of power at multiple sites. By exploring the nexus of power as it concerns broader tensions between states/borders/immigration and diasporas/networks/ongoing migration – but based on the embodied experiences of diaspora-refugees – Biftu’s research unsettles narratives that cast aspersions on racialized diasporas to Canada. Such findings are vital to Canadian public policy goals and practices of social inclusion and cohesion, and more specifically, to the global implications of Canadian policies and practices concerning refugee protection.

Biftu Yousuf is a PhD candidate in Geography at York University’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change. Her dissertation on refugee protection is under the supervision of Professor Jennifer Hyndman and funded by SSHRC and York’s LA&PS Dissertation Fieldwork Fellowship. Biftu received her BA (Hons. with Distinction) in Criminology and holds a double Master’s in Criminology (MA) and Health (MSc) from Simon Fraser University. She routinely works in community organizing projects alongside racialized diasporas across Canada, and recently founded a non-profit organization that serves refugees and newcomers in Ontario.