The realities of Eritrean refugees in a carceral age

Yohannes, Hyab Teklehaimanot (2021) The realities of Eritrean refugees in a carceral age. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Academics, journalists, and human rights groups have, for decades, written about the secretive and repressive nature of the state of Eritrea and the mass emigration of people from the country. At the core of these discussions have been discourses about human rights violations and ‘crime against humanity’ being committed by the government of Eritrea since the country’s independence. The reality, however, is that ever since its creation by Italian colonisers as a territorially bounded state, Eritrea has never been ruled by law, nor has it been subject to any rights-based system. Thus, the premise of human rights violations—the human rights lens through which these discourses are produced, and the geopolitical interests they serve—grasps neither the realities on the ground nor the complexities and nuances of how the human is differentially produced. Although the empirical evidence produced by UN branches, perennial human rights lobbyists and academic activists can be useful to back up normative claims, human rights discourses and approaches fail to address epistemic and methodological blind spots, leaving theoretical voids in our understanding of the carceral state of Eritrea and the realities of the lives of people fleeing the country. This study attends to these epistemic blind spots and theoretical voids by presenting an alternative reality that is grounded in the perspectives of those who have fled the country.

Underpinned by ontological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions of critical realism, this research considers the what, how, and why questions that underpin Eritrean refugees’ realities of becoming, and the conditions of being, refugees. Its key findings fall into three broad categories. First, the thesis finds that Eritreans are born into, and live in, conditions of lawlessness and rightlessness that began with the colonial occupation of what is now known as Eritrea, and these conditions have been maintained by the only government that has ruled the country since its independence. This precarious condition of ‘no laws nor rights’, and the modalities of punishment and control the government has imposed on the Eritrean people, explains why the country has been haemorrhaging its youthful population. Second, due to their unprotected status, Eritrean refugees have been left stranded indefinitely in exclusive biopolitical entanglements and necropolitical experimentations, in which they have been treated as disposable corporealities that are always available for exploitation, violence, and removal without accountability. Third, the disenfranchisement of the refugees, and the collapse of all their human experiences and relations into indefinite modalities of precarity, carcerality and (im)mobility, has led to the total negation of their humanity. In these conditions, occurrences of dehumanisation and depoliticisation of Eritrean refugees are endless; murder is not unusual, nor is it a crime. In presenting these findings, the study does not only investigate the realities of being an Eritrean refugee, but also how processes and intertwined power relations interplay with causal powers and contextual circumstances that are responsible for the relegation of Eritrean lives to the precarious condition of being unliveable and ungrievable.

Through these findings, this study seeks to make three key contributions. First, by exposing the gaps in human rights discourses and esoteric political imaginations, this research offers an alternative approach to understanding the perplexing nature of the state of Eritrea and the realities of the people fleeing the county, by suggesting a total absence of law and rights, using the rule of ‘no laws nor rights’ as a starting point. Second, this thesis looks at how, in their constant struggle for survival and political existence, refugees play a disruptive role by shaking the principles upon which the nation-state system has been built (Agamben, 1995a). Agamben (1995a) makes this case from an Euro-centric perspective, thus he fails to see the links between the ‘world of modernity’ and the ‘world of coloniality’, and hence, the subjectivities these worlds create, shape, and reproduce. Third, drawing on clues from seminal thinkers in the fields of sovereignty and biopolitics, such as Arendt, Foucault and Agamben, the thesis opens new areas of criticism to further our understanding of the role of the state in the biopolitical b/ordering of societies and the policing of the ability to qualify as human.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Carcerality, (im)mobility, untamed life, coloniality, Eritrean refugees, no-laws nor rights, trafficking, camp.
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Phipps, Professor Alison and McNeill, Professor Fergus
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82511
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 18 Oct 2021 15:38
Last Modified: 26 Oct 2021 14:37
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82511

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