Smith, Kate (2017) ‘Vulnerability’: Rethinking stories about ‘the refugee’. In: British Sociological Association Annual Conference 2017, Tuesday 4 - Thursday 6 April, Manchester. (Unpublished)

This paper will discuss the narrative of vulnerability that is emerging in relation to ‘the refugee’. The UNHCR has stated that forced displacement across the world increased dramatically in 2014 and 2015, with record-high numbers. Since 2014 an estimated 1.6 million refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean to Europe and over 12,000 are estimated to have died trying to make the journey. However, the right to asylum has been undermined at a European Union, nation-state and personal level. For decades, border controls have become a symbol of retaining control over a country. Restrictive borders, directed toward managing the flow of refugees coming into neoliberal democracies, have become a defining feature of contemporary immigration policy and social order which keep the consequences of vulnerabilities, forced displacement, violence and inequalities largely hidden from European publics. Despite an absence of increased numbers of refugees in the UK, in a unilateral approach to Europe the UK Home Secretary set-up the ‘Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme’ (SVPRP) to provide a route for selected Syrian refugees to come to the UK. The SVPRP stands in stark contrast to the existing asylum provision and exemplifies the latest hierarchy of rights and entitlements to emerge for refugees in the UK. Increasingly the notion of ‘vulnerability’ is used to highlight clear distinctions between people who are deemed to ‘deserve’ protection and those who do not. Policies and interventions have narrowed the protection space for refugees and ‘the vulnerable’ have become a marker for the brave new world of refugee policy.

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