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Transnational abductions and transnational responsibilities? The politics of ‘protecting’ female Muslim refugees abducted from Spain

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This article examines evolving gendered protection narratives surrounding four ‘abduction’ cases in which Sahrawi refugee girls and young women living in Spain were ‘abducted’ by their birth-families and forcibly returned to the Algerian-based Sahrawi refugee camps between 2002 and 2009. By exploring Spanish state and civil society responses to these girls' ‘abductions’, I argue that there has been a major shift in the ways in which legitimate responsibility and authority over Sahrawi refugee women as Muslim female forced migrants have been conceptualised and invoked by Spanish actors. I therefore assess the gendered nature of competing claims of responsibility to ‘protect’ Sahrawi refugee women both within and outside of the Algerian-based Sahrawi refugee camps, exploring the motivations and implications of different actors' in/actions towards these girls and women. With Polisario claiming to represent and act as a liberal ‘state’ committed to protecting the rights of its ‘refugee-citizens’ in some instances, while denying politico-legal responsibility in others, the question of ‘who’ or ‘what’ claims the legitimate authority to ‘protect’ Sahrawi refugee women and girls is thus accentuated by such cases. By exploring shifts in Spanish public and political discourses of responsibility over the past decade on the one hand, and the accentuation of competing discourses as presented by Spanish, Polisario and Algerian actors on the other, this article highlights the complex nature and implications of the ‘intimate’ Spanish civil society networks that ensure the physical and political survival of the Sahrawi refugee camps. Ultimately, I argue that Sahrawi girls and women have become hypervisible in Spain, being conceptualised as women who ‘belong’ to the Spanish nation that in turn has a responsibility to ‘protect’ ‘our’ Sahrawi women from ‘their’ culture.
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Keywords: Orientalism; Orientalismo; Sahrawi refugees; abduction; contested sovereignty; escenarios de protección; mujeres refugiadas; protection scenarios; refugee women; refugiados saharaui; secuestro; soberanía disputada

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford, 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford, OX1 3TB, UK

Publication date: February 7, 2014

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