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Daniela De Vito.  Crucible Centre, Roehampton University

Who Belongs as Citizens? The Realities of Refugees and Asylum Seekers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Refugees and Asylum seekers have often been placed at the margins of or excluded from political institutions and society. Whether these individuals find themselves in refugee camps, in situations of detention, in so-called refugee processing centres, or living within society awaiting their asylum claims to be processed or with refugee status, belonging as citizens may be considered extremely difficult or virtually impossible. Furthermore, the realities faced by refugees and asylum seekers who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) contribute to the difficulties in accepting these individuals as citizens. However, this paper will argue that despite these perceptions and realities it is possible to consider that refugees and asylum seekers belong as citizens. The paper will take an inter-disciplinary approach and will draw on the conceptual resources of political theory analysis while incorporating real life situations within the theoretical assessment.

First, a distinction will be made between ‘belonging as citizens’ and ‘having citizenship rights’. The aim will be to emphasise that having a formal claim to citizenship may not necessarily be a requirement for belonging as a citizen. The work of Seyla Benhabib will be a starting point for this discussion. For instance, Benhabib writes about re-formulating citizenship beyond national membership and uses the term ‘citizenship of residency’. Second, while acknowledging and appreciating the implications of placing individuals within such categories, the definitions of refugees and asylum seekers as understood under current international refugee law will be outlined. This is important since a refugee and an asylum seeker experience different realities in conjunction with the process of belonging as a citizen. For instance, the asylum seeker whose claim is being processed is in a state of limbo and may find opportunities to belong as a citizen more difficult than the refugee. Where the individual finds himself/herself – such as in a camp, etc. - will have an impact on the process. In addition, the constraints presented by psychiatric labels such as PTSD in relation to refugees and asylum seekers will be outlined and challenged. Third, real life examples will be utilised to argue that one manner in which refugees and asylum seekers can belong as citizens is through participation. Of course, whether or not access to participation is available or if these individuals can participate as equals within political structures or society will be examined. One such example, which will demonstrate different levels of participation and perhaps belonging as citizens, is the group of Sudanese asylum seekers who organised a demonstration in London highlighting the situation in Darfur (Sudan) and who pressed for the United Kingdom government and the international community to intervene in the conflict. Such participation, and therefore belonging as citizens, could be located within a multi-faceted and non-formal approach to citizenship.

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