Transcending Borders: The Evolution of the Refugee Diaspora in ‘Bounded’ and ‘Moebius ’ Space
The emergence of ‘transnational refugee theory’ and the rubric of the ‘refugee diaspora’ have reignited refugee studies, and elicited an exciting theoretical vantage-point from which to explore refugee communities. This paper seeks to disentangle the core precepts of transnational refugee theory and, drawing upon compelling empirical evidence strengthen our understanding of the dynamic interaction between the refugee diaspora and the environment within which it evolves – in particular how the entrenched international refugee regime ontology impacts directly the effective functioning of the refugee community. Echoing Giddens’ Structuration Theory, what is proposed is that the refugee community exists within a ‘middle space’ – a synthesis of endogenous and exogenous factors that together establish the ‘boundaries’ that shape the diaspora space, and ultimately support or undermine the activities of those communities located within it. Accordingly, a refugee ‘middle space model’ is outlined, which defines a core set of economic, political and socio-cultural activities, and the endogenous and exogenous factors that shape their realisation in situ. This theoretical construct is applied to two case studies. Firstly, the ‘bounded’ space of Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in Kenya is shown to not only disregard but also actively undermine the transnational character of refugee displacement. Moreover, while the refugee community remains active in circumventing these boundaries, there remains an inherent ambiguity in this transnational activism, giving rise to a perversion or ‘transmutation’ of the bounded refugee space. In stark contrast, the Free Movement Protocols of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) are establishing a fluid ‘moebius’ space that both acknowledges and facilitates the transnational foundations of the refugee diaspora – as both a ‘bottom-up’ (endogenous) and ‘top-down’ (exogenous) process. However, the nascent UNHCR-ECOWAS partnership remains mired in an incoherent demarcation of responsibilities and a dearth of cohesive regional processes. Notwithstanding these limitations, the moebius middle space clearly offers an invigorating alternative to the prevailing UNHCR containment model – providing a truly ‘durable solution’ for those transnational communities dispersed across the refugee diaspora.