These Days I'm Feeling Half-Home: A Study of Sahrawi Youth in Displacement

Student thesis: Master thesis (including HD thesis)

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  • Tess Thurøe
  • Sarah Louise Madsen
4. term, Global Refugee Studies, Master (Master Programme)
Entering its fifth decade of occupation by Morocco and referred to as “Africa’s last colony” (Zunes & Mundy 2010:xxi), Western Sahara is one of the very few remaining non-self-governing territories in the world (Herz 2013:13, Chatty 2010:6). After more than 40 years in exile in Algeria, a new generation of Sahrawi refugees from Western Sahara have been born and raised in refugee camps, into a conflict that has largely been forgotten by the outside world. Highly educated and remarkably mobile, this new generation is now entering adulthood and facing a life put on hold while waiting for an uncertain return to the homeland. Driven by a curiosity over what keeps these young, mobile refugees anchored in the camps in Algeria, we set out to explore how their experiences of displacement influence their life choices. Based on three weeks of intense fieldwork in the refugee camps in Algeria, interviews with young Sahrawi refugees, countless informal conversations and observations of the unfolding of life in the middle of the inhospitable desert, we explore the perspectives of Sahrawi youth from their own vantage points as young adults in a protracted displacement situation. Drawing on Henrik Vigh’s writings on crisis and chronicity (2008) and Victor Turner’s take on the concept of liminality (1964), we propose a new term, liminal flux, in an attempt to more accurately grasp the rather unique situation of displacement in which our young informants find themselves. Drawing on Vigh’s concept of social navigation (2006, 2009, 2010), we trace how our informants navigate a social terrain in liminal flux towards uncertain futures. We found that displacement does not only constitute a context, but is just as much a process and a lived experience. To our informants, becoming displaced occurs through a process of becoming aware of ‘not being in the right place’. In particular, our informants emphasized their childhood travels abroad as a primary catalyst into the awareness of not living “normal” lives in comparison to the reality they faced abroad. We found that this process not only served as a vector of separation for our informants, similar to the older generation’s physical displacement through flight, it also connected the young Saharawis with their elders in a displacement that was no longer abstract, but had become experientially shared through a collective awareness of being displaced. We suggest the analytical term liminal flux to understand how young Saharawi refugees inhabit a space characterised by conditions of both chronicity and liminality, where, in spite of the protracted nature of their displacement, the expectation of “returning home soon” plays a crucial role in everyday-life decision-making. Thus, we found that a present emerges, which – while full of veiled potential and possibilities – oscillates between sometimes suffocatingly chronic, sometimes hopefully liminal configurations. This indeed proved to be a significant obstacle in the way for our informants to establish their lives, necessitating active strategies for making sense of lives put on hold while waiting for a promised, yet uncertain return to a future infused with imaginings of the past.
LanguageEnglish
Publication date1 Apr 2016
Number of pages100
ID: 230743843