“Urban Politics and Refugee Law: Refugee Reception Offices and Contested Residence in South African Cities”
Presented by James Johnson (Department of Sociology, UCLA)
South African cities continue to experience high levels of mobility and diversity and contentious politics over residence. For refugees and asylum seekers, such contention involves conflicts over the location and closures of Refugee Reception Office (RROs) – sites of mandatory registration for refugees and asylum seekers to maintain legal status in the country – across South African cities. However, while the control of movement and residence for refugees and asylum seekers is often attributed to a combination of national policies and international law, there has been less emphasis on the role of local state and civil society actors in influencing the implementation of these policies and legislation. Furthermore, when urban actors are attributed to influencing the implementation of policy and law for refugees and asylum seekers, this is often viewed as distinct from urban politics – defined here as political and legal contention over access to rights in cities – more generally. Therefore, in this dissertation, I explore the potential influence of urban politics on the implementation of refugee law and policies in South African cities, with a particular focus on the RRO in Cape Town. Based on preliminary archival and fieldwork research, I contend that urban politics in interaction with state institutions lead to ambivalent outcomes in the implementation of refugee law and policies regarding these offices. I further explore how such ambivalence over residence in the city may compare more broadly with urban politics over the recognition and expansion of certain informal settlements in Cape Town.
James is a visiting PhD Candidate in Sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Currently, he is a recipient of a Fulbright-Hay award for his dissertation research the local implementation of refugee law an policy in South African cities. He has previously received an MA in Forced Migration Studies from the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersrand; and MSc in Global Politics from the London School of Economics; and a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of California, Berkley.