“Wiping the Refugee Dust from My Feet”: Advantages and Burdens of Refugee Status and the Refugee Label

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Abstract

There are two dominant contrasting images of refugees in scholarship and popular discourse: refugees as powerless victims or beneficiaries of generous welfare packages. While it is true that an individual who enters the United States with legal refugee status has – at least at first glance – many advantages over those arriving as immigrants. Unlike immigrants, refugees are entitled to numerous government benefits, thus putting her or him in a privileged position compared to those who lack the official status of refugee. On the other hand refugees' depiction as being need of services and protection can also perpetuate an image of them as victims without agency. This ethnographic study of Liberian refugees in Staten Island, New York shows how refugees themselves and their co-ethnics who are in the US under a variety of other legal statues regard the term “refugee”. This paper establishes the advantages that are associated with the legal refugee status and the burdens with the informal label “refugee”. This analysis will clarify how the legal refugee status can be beneficial and the informal label refugee, burdensome not just for Liberian, but for refugees in general and as such have significant policy implications.

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