Accepted Paper:

Queerness as policing: UNHCR and the management of Syrian queer refugees  


Fadi Saleh (University of Göttingen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the asylum-seeking processes of Syrian LGBTs at the UNHCR in Turkey. It critically approaches both the (un)institutionalized UNHCR practices and the emerging narratives and techniques invented and exercised by Syrian queer refugees as resistance strategies.

Paper long abstract:

Within the larger context of transnational sexual and gender politics, refugee protection and migration management, and based on ethnographic research in Istanbul, this paper examines the asylum-seeking procedures and experiences of queer Syrian refugees. While the UNHCR is allegedly not accepting any more applications from Syrians based on war, Syrians seeking asylum based on "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" are still allowed to apply. The paper argues that a rising discourse of "queer exceptionalism" is gaining ground whereby an international-universal, abstract "queerness" overrides citizenship/war as reasons for seeking asylum. In this sense, the paper propounds sexuality/gender identity/citizenship/refugee/migrant status as convergent modalities employed by local NGOs, IGOs, and the UNHCR and demonstrates how these organizations do not only become functional in managing migration under the guise of refugee protection, but also instrumentalize sexuality as an affective tool of constructing and producing a Syrian queer refugee population as "exceptional" recipients of humanitarian benevolence, while simultaneously employing this very sexual "exceptionalism" as a valid strategy for further control and discipline of the very subjects it produces. Furthermore, the paper aims to examine how this very affective instrumentalization has also intensified resistance and generated creative methods and tools of eschewing control on the part of the Syrian queer subjects, as well as allowed for the emergence of contingent subjectivities, bodily practices and queer narratives that deterritorialize both the UNHCR's exceptionalist queer discourses and methods of knowledge production on matters queer within the Middle East and North Africa.

Panel Gend004
Queer ethnographies of the 21st century: heritages, realities, and perspectives