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Multiple Belongings in Refugee Resettlement: A Study of Bhutanese Refugees in the UK

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In political and public discourses, refugees are often portrayed as 'uprooted' or 'homeless', based on the assumption that individuals are born into a fixed nationality, identity, and culture, to which they belong, and into which forced migrants seek to return after they have been made homeless. 'Refugeeness' is conceived as traumatic, leading to a so-called 'identity-crisis' and a general sense of homelessness, making refugees into 'zombies', who fall outside of clear national borders and categories.

This paper, however, based on ethnographic fieldwork with Bhutanese refugees who resettled in the United Kingdom with an organized refugee resettlement programme, cautions against portraying the home as a natural, singular and permanent sense of locality and identity. 'Rootedness' presumes that before becoming refugees, they were coherent, homogeneous communities with a single social, cultural, and national identity and localized roots. Rather, some refugee groups, such as Bhutanese refugees, have always been a community-intransition, with various, multi-dimensional, multi-cultural, and multi-national identities. For them, 'home' is not conceived of as having a single root, but is located in a pluralist world with multiple possibilities for finding belonging.

Forced migrants may live their lives in a process of cultural translation, in which they actively pick and choose from various local, national, and transnational cultures and identities, in order to create a multiple and hybridized sense of belonging and home. The paper concludes that although forced migration may have removed individuals from their locality, refugees may not perceive themselves as essentially homeless, but actively refashion their sense of belonging in exile. The notion of 'rootedness' in political and public discourses tells us more about the discursive landscape of the UK, rather than the actual experience of forced migrants.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2017

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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