Association pour l’anthropologie du changement social et du développement
Association for the anthropology of social change and development

Translating asylum: The circulation of national asylum procedures to Niger

Auteur(s) : Lambert Laura ;

Asylum is considered first of all a matter of nation states. Nevertheless, the reality in many countries in the global South, who globally host the largest share of refugees, is rather a complex constellation of actors with their different perceptions and strategies of how national asylum should be done and for which purpose – namely the UNHCR, national authorities, international donor states and asylum-seekers and refugees.

Based on a one-year ethnographic fieldwork in 2018-2019 in Niger, the presentation attempts to trace how and for which purpose the global model of “national asylum” was implemented in Niger since the 1990s and particularly between 2015-2019, via the classical instruments of lobbying, training, and experts. These circulations highlight recurring changes, shared understandings and frictions between these actors.

I argue that the de facto introduction of a run-of the mill model of national asylum in Niger was centrally driven by the UNHCR. This happened when there were actually nearly no refugees, due to a) UNHCR’s strategy of reducing its implication in the Sahel at the end of the 1990s and b) in 2015 due to the political career of migration control, based on UNHCR’s tying of asylum to migration control. Nevertheless, it was implemented in a local context of e.g. a precarious and nepotistic administration, donor dependency and multiple state priorities, postcolonial control tactics and societal conformism that altogether changed the model and its effects.

Nowadays, the responsibilization of the state remains a disputed frame of reference. Based on the recent example of evacuations of refugees in detention from Libya to Niger (Emergency Transit Mechanism), I will portray the conflicting representations between the UNHCR staff, Nigerien bureaucrats, European donors and asylum-seekers regarding the meaning of a sovereign or national asylum procedure, speaking of a lacking shared understanding of the actors (or metacode, Rottenburg 2009). This calls into question a one-dimensional (wish for the) increase of national responsibility.

Similarly, regarding the understanding of fair and just procedures, different actors have expressed diverging reform interests, such as to which norms an appeal procedure has to conform to (legal norms, practicality).


Rottenburg, Richard (2009): Far-fetched Facts. A Parable of  Development Aid. MIT Press.

Mot-clé : asylum procedure; UNHCR; Niger; state responsibility

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Voir le panel Les circulations des référentiels et des instruments d’action publique / Circulation of policy frames and tools

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