ABSTRACT

This chapter explores how the notion of “needs” has diffused through the work of United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Central Africa. It shows that the classification of refugees echoes the different traditions, while not simply mirroring them. UNHCR’s classifications thus articulate different ways of making societies legible, different “modes of ordering”: a legal approach, a labor or developmental approach, and a vulnerability approach. In James Scott’s study, the notion of “legibility” is backed by a second notion: “high modernism.” People were classified not only according to their legal status but also according to their vulnerability. Colonial administrators considered migrants a threat to their authority. International law began by distinguishing refugees from the larger groups of migrants and then multiplied the categories of protection. For critics, refugee settlements seemed to be more about transforming migrants into farmers, townspeople into villagers, and groups of refugees into “communities” than about protecting refugees.