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Who counts as a refugee?
Who counts as a refugee?

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9 Conclusion

In this course we have explored the mutual constitution of personal lives and social policy through an analysis of the implications of different aspects of citizenship on the lives of refugees and asylum seekers. We have seen that legislation, social policy and practice concerned with asylum have profound effects on personal lives. Crucially, we saw that the very words used to describe people, their access to welfare, rights to work, legal status and the procedures for becoming a British citizen all mark them out as different and ‘other’. Immigration and asylum law and policy in the early twenty-first century are not based on ideas of universal human rights, but primarily on the premises of deterring people from coming to the UK, monitoring and surveillance of them while they are here, and removing them if possible. Importantly, we have seen the role of the voluntary organisations in challenging dominant discourses, policies and practices.

Different theoretical perspectives can help us to understand varying aspects of the relationship between personal lives and social policy, in particular the gendered and class nature of the relationship, the ways in which people have resisted or refused to identify with the subject positions offered to them, the anxieties provoked by claims to diasporic citizenship and the ways in which, through its citizenship proposals, the government has attempted to impose a dominant understanding of the nation/people.

Finally, we have seen how research can produce or reproduce particular kinds of knowledge about refugees, asylum seekers and citizenship. In order to explore the mutual constitution of personal lives and social policy, we need qualitative evidence that can open up and illustrate the multiple and contested ways in which people understand and represent their lives, evidence in which the experiences, feelings and emotions of those lives are articulated. That is why in this course we have made use of the personal stories with which we started. They gave us an opportunity at least to imagine people's circumstances and how they felt, to realise how different these experiences can be for different ‘asylum seekers’, and perhaps to empathise with them.