chapter  3
Ungrateful subjects? Refugee protests and the logic of gratitude
Pages 19

These brief passages illustrate a common response to the presence of (certain) others in foreign territories. Usually, once incorporated (even if in tenuous and, more often than not, ambiguous ways) into host societies, refugees and migrants are expected to be grateful to their hosts. How is it possible that the refusal of certain terms of the (humanitarian) protection architecture, which is usually defined by sovereign authorities, elicits the response that these groups are ‘ungrateful subjects’? How do refugee and migrant communities respond to such claims? This chapter investigates some of the normative assumptions that lie behind the expectation of gratitude from refugees and migrants by hosting societies. I argue that the justification underlying the expectation of gratitude is based primarily on a supposed tension between two fundamental rights: freedom and protection. I illustrate the paradoxes that stem from this complex normative

relationship through a study of the ongoing protest of resettled Palestinian refugees in Brasilia, Brazil, who have camped outside the UNHCR office since May 2008. In this chapter, I argue that from the standpoint of the sovereign authority (in this case represented by both the nation-state and international organisations), the granting of legal status poses a choice for refugees: either they may exercise liberty, or they may be included in the protective humanitarian scaffold. This means that, in order to be protected, refugees are expected to accept severe restrictions on their freedoms; if refugees want to be free, they can no longer be protected as refugees. The chapter further conveys that the tension between these two fundamental political values – freedom and protection – reflects an aporia of liberal (international) political theory, related to the process of the social construction of the refugee figure in the international system. This aporia is connected to the fact that the logic of gratitude is an intrinsic part of the international discourse on human mobility. Mobility is produced and framed in terms of the production and management of difference, always and routinely articulated in relation to concepts of citizenship. The refugee becomes a mobile referent, an ‘other’ upon which the idea of proper citizenship depends. Without refugees and the corrective mechanisms put in motion by the international refugee regime, citizenship would not have become the ‘normal’ model of belonging in contemporary democratic societies (Arendt 2004). If ungrateful citizens are usually read in terms of being active, demanding participants of their political communities, ungrateful refugees are produced as undeserving, unwelcomed others who are not entitled to climb the steps toward properly authorised citizenship status. In a sense, the ungrateful refugee is represented as the hidden antinomy and distorted image of the valiant citizen; the portrait of Dorian Gray, locked up in the attic of modern democracies. This constitutive yet convoluted link between citizenship and refugeeness is made even more truncated in the context of peripheral societies. The thrust of modern citizenship in these communities has never been fully articulated in the fabric of social relationships (Santos 2002), nor has it acquired the status of a desirable and fulfilling juridical condition. In order to unpack these (dis)connections, this chapter builds on anthropological theories about the act of gift-giving and the concept of gratitude, showing how such moral actions are themselves embedded in social systems of symbolic exchange (Mauss 1967; Van Wees 1998), and in the international framework for the management of human mobility, notably in its bio-political form (Doty 2009; Pin-Fat and Edkins 2004). With this chapter I hope to contribute to a better theoretical understanding of the assumptions involved in the granting of protection to mobile groups and its relation to the premises of modern citizenship, especially in the context of SouthSouth circulations. The first part of the chapter briefly describes the arrival and reception of the resettled Palestinian refugees in Brazil, establishing the context so as to understand how and why the protest took place. The second part analyses the social construction of the refugee figure at the intersection of freedom and protection,

as well as its linkage to the logic of gratitude, referring to the Palestinian protest for examples. The second part also articulates this more theoretical analysis with the specificities of the Brazilian case and indicates to what extent the confluence of global and local provides the structural basis upon which the management of ‘forcibly displaced populations’ is made possible. The third part concludes with some reflections on the criticisms levelled by the Palestinian refugees, and on the recurrent dilemmas derived from the hard choice they have to make between receiving humanitarian protection and exercising their freedoms.