Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

Marginalized at the center: how public narratives of suffering perpetuate perceptions of refugees’ helplessness and dependency.

Otieno Kisiara


This paper critiques the common practice of people from refugee backgrounds giving presentations and testimonials on their displacement experiences, in college, university, and similar institutional settings. While such speaking events may be framed as opportunities to center refugee voices, this paper argues that the totality of the presentation environments, especially their focus on narratives of suffering, do in fact reinforce the marginal and powerless position with which refugees are associated. To counteract the marginalizing effects of such presentations, the paper suggests alternative ways of presentations that more meaningfully involve refugees in framing and directing such speaking events.


Refugees; Marginalization; Pathologization; Suffering Narratives

Full Text:



Aljazeera (2013). Humanitarian Crisis in Syria. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from

Amnesty International. Refugees and asylum-seekers in Israel: ineffective protection. Retrieved January 9, 2014, from

Armstrong, K. (2008). “”Seeing the Suffering” in Northern Uganda: The Impact of a Human Rights Approach to Humanitarianism”, Canadian Journal of African Studies, 42 (1): 1-32.

CNN (2013). Group offers rain boots, smiles to Syrian refugee children. Retrieved January 9, 2014, from

Fassin, D. (2005). “Compassion and Repression: The Moral Economy of Immigration Policies in France”, Cultural Anthropology, 20 (3): 362-387.

Fassin, D. and d’Halluin, E. (2005). “The Truth from the Body: Medical Certificates as Ultimate Evidence for Asylum Seekers”, American Anthropologist, 107 (4) : 597-608.

Harrell-Bond, B. and Voutira, E. (1992). “Anthropology and the Study of Refugees”, Anthropology Today, 8 (4): 6-10.

Ibrahim, A. (2009). “Connecting Testimony, Trauma, and Memory: The Sierra Leone Experience”, Pacific Coast Philology, 44 (2): 249-271.

Inhetveen, K. (2006). “Because we are refugees”: utilizing a legal label. Research Paper No. 130, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), New Issues in Refugee Research, Geneva, Switzerland.

Kirmayer, L. (2003), “Failures of Imagination: the Refugee’s Narrative in Psychiatry”, Anthropology & Medicine, 10 (2):167-185.

Kuwayama, T. (2003). Natives as Dialogic Partners : Some Thoughts on Native Anthropology. Anthropology Today, 19 (1) : 8-13

Malkki, L. (1995). “Refugees and Exile: From “Refugee Studies” to the National Order of Things”, Annual Review of Anthropology, 24 :495-523.

Rajaram, P. (2002) “Humanitarianism and Representations of the Refugee”, Journal of Refugee Studies, 15 (3): 247-264.

Pupavac, V. (2006). Refugees in the ‘sick role’: stereotyping refugees and eroding refugee rights, Research Paper No. 128, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), New Issues in Refugee Research, Geneva, Switzerland.

Sliep, Y., Weingarten, K. and Gilbert, A. (2004), “Narrative Theatre as an Interactive Community Approach to Mobilizing Collective Action in Northern Uganda”, Families, Systems & Health, 22 (3): 306-320.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2013a). UNHCR reports harsh conditions and legal shortcomings at Pacific Island asylum centres. Retrieved January 9, 2014, from

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2013b). UNHCR Projected Global Resettlement Needs 2014. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2010). Listening to the Voices of Refugees and Stateless Persons: A Report on the Participatory Assessments in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Kharkiv and Kyiv. Retrieved January 14, 2013 from

U.S. Committee for Refugees & Immigrants. Refugee Voices. Retrieved June 6, 2014, from


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Transnational Press London

Copyright © 2003-2016 Migration Letters / Transnational Press London | All rights reserved | Contact Us