State Transformations in the Context of Migration

This project examines state transformations in relation to migration in Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement in Turkana County, Kenya. The research is a part of the cohort “The Technicisation of Exclusionary Practices in the Context of Migration”, which critically examines the expansion and impact of the EU’s legal and technological strategies to control migration. This research explores transnational and supranational organizations’ relationships with the modern state, examining how modern states and transnational organizations co-construct social orders. This is explored in the context of Kakuma and Kalobeyei, where supranational entities such as the UNHCR and the EU challenge the basic components of the Kenyan state and its presumably legitimate sovereignty over a given territory.

Based on twelve months of ethnographic research in Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement, in this research project I examine these competing legitimacies, as well as the efforts and methods the various entities employ to try to control the refugee population. The research deals with various transformative state projects that are enacted by a wide variety of organizations in Kakuma and Kalobeyei, including humanitarian organizations, non-governmental bodies, community-based organizations, the UNHCR, the EU, the Kenyan central state, and the local Turkana County government. The result is a mixture of legitimacies competing for and negotiating control over refugees, all of which consequently impacts the refugees’ interpretations of and responses to these humanitarian and state processes.

These competing legitimacies have developed out of the ongoing political contexts within Kenya and the EU. The Kenyan government has recently become actively involved in refugee affairs and management, whereas in the past it allowed the UNHCR to fully manage the refugee camps within the country. In Kakuma, the presence of the Kenyan state has gradually increased since the passing of the 2006 Refugee Act, especially through the state’s Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS). Although the UNHCR’s activities have subsequently decreased, it is being pressured by the EU to establish spaces of “resilience” in an attempt to reduce migration to Europe. The result is the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement, a new camp near Kakuma, which is intended to become a long-term refugee camp with permanent shelters and agricultural prospects. The establishment of the new camp also relates to another political context in Kenya, the ongoing devolution project based on the 2010 Constitution. One aspect of this devolution process is the creation of new municipalities, sponsored by the World Bank and enacted by the newly formed Turkana County government. Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement, with its newly constructed permanent shelters, provides the legally required basis for the possible establishment of such a municipality incorporating both Kakuma and Kalobeyei in the future. The varying political contexts at different scales of governance – county, state, and supranational – has produced different and sometimes competing political legitimacies in Kakuma and Kalobeyei.

The consequence of such constantly changing humanitarian and state practices is an array of varying responses by refugees. They position themselves within the context of these ongoing shifts in power relations by mediating and negotiating with the various organizations that attempt to control them. The result is a tactful use of complacence and resistance by refugees towards the various humanitarian organisations, NGOs, and state bodies. In doing so, the refugees shape and challenge notions of statehood and citizenship within the context of Kakuma and Kalobeyei.

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