Accepted Paper:

The making of the Romani refugee: a social history of Hungarian Romani citizenship and asylum-seeking  


Sara Swerdlyk (Central European University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper emphasizes the category of the ‘refugee’ as a historical product. It analyzes the case of Hungarian Roma seeking asylum in Canada, placing this ‘Roma Exodus’ within the wider citizenship processes shaping Central Europe, and asking how Romani migrants themselves negotiate these processes.

Paper long abstract:

The last decade has borne witness to thousands of Hungarian Roma seeking asylum protection in Canada, where Hungary currently figures as one of the leading refugee-sending countries. In this paper, I investigate this 'Roma Exodus' from Hungary to Canada by tracing the lived realities of Hungarian Romani refugees in Canada back to the broader developments taking place within the region from which Romani refugees originate. Combining ethnographic fieldwork in Hungary with archival and media analysis, my research starts from the premise that refugee experiences must be re-embedded and understood within their wider political, economic, and historical contexts. The paper thus emphasizes the need to resist the abstraction of refugee experiences from their broader circumstances, in which asylum-seeking appears to be a 'moment in itself.' The paper explores how the 'Romani refugee' is a product of a particular historical conjuncture defined by the neoliberal economic transformations re-shaping East-Central Europe, where increasingly exclusionary access to citizenship rights, contemporary class restructuring and dispossession, and growing postsocialist populism have dire effects on the marginalization and mobility of Roma. The paper examines these structural changes in light of how Hungarian Roma themselves make sense of their place within them and use mobility as an of citizenship. My research thus ultimately underscores the ways in which Romani refugees 'make themselves' as much as they are made, and 'learn' to be refugees within the current historical moment, in which the 'making of the Romani refugee' is simultaneously both a historical production and a daily negotiation.

Panel RM-MRB02
Disturbing the category of the "refugee": cross-border histories, hospitalities and everyday practices of sovereignty