Queer(y)ing Resettlement in Aotearoa New Zealand: An Inquiry into Family Reunification Pathway Reform for Former Refugees
The 2018 Global Compact agreement between UN member states and multilateral agencies marked formal recognition of the need for international rights-based solutions to protracted displacement. These solutions sit within the migration-development nexus, specifically the recognition that resettlement encompasses development needs which span the typically siloed spheres of international and domestic policy. Literature has shown that family reunification is one of the most important factors for successful resettlement. In Aotearoa NZ, former refugees may apply for refugee family reunification (RFR) through two policy pathways, both of which offer a limited number of places. Over half of the applications are rejected each year, most on the grounds of failing to meet eligibility criteria. The question as to why so many applications for RFR are unsuccessful forms a basis for policy review.
This research seeks to understand why RFR fails former refugees in such drastic numbers. Using a theoretical framework of marginality (comprised of social exclusion, critical kinship, and queer theory), I inquired into what the key barriers to successful RFR are, and in what ways RFR policy and its associated processes may be excluding refugee families.
Adopting a qualitative methodology, I engaged in semi-structured interviews with six people involved in RFR. Through thematic analysis, I identified myriad barriers and exclusions including the logistical constraints of application and the minutia of bureaucratic demands, to wider issues of lacking cultural competence of immigration officers and indirect separation of families. Exclusions find their roots in the promotion and reinforcement of norms as they relate to hetero-western ideals of ‘family’, and the allied subject position for former refugee families as ‘queer’. Through discursive analysis to better understand the power dynamics at work, I discuss three discourses: ‘family as culturally bound/(in)eligible’, ‘family as more than’, and ‘family as culturally akin’, which seek to reinforce or counter current RFR policy stipulations respectively.
General findings show that by centring queer subjects and their discourses, many of the barriers and exclusions specified by participants as currently embedded within RFR processes would be mitigated. In turn, this re-orientation would counter Eurocentric heteronormative ideas within rights-based development and in the formation and implementation of RFR policy. I conclude with speculations as to how policy reform can better recognise that family is ‘more than’ the hetero-western norms on which current policy has been established, through the application of a marginality framework to policy review. I note that this case study in Aotearoa forms a basis for adopting marginality approaches to rights-based resettlement policies in international development frameworks and scholarship, and identify further research focused on queer(y)ing resettlement processes in Aotearoa.