Black Boxes of Bureaucracy: Transparency and Opacity in the Resettlement Process of Congolese Refugees



To qualify for third-country resettlement, refugees must convince aid representatives that they have been individually persecuted and continue to fear such persecution. This article focuses on the official documents Congolese refugees collect as evidence of their persecution to bolster their resettlement claims before their refugee camp in Tanzania closes. To illuminate the creation, collection, and circulation of such documents, I trace one Congolese family's story as it is folded, literally and metaphorically, into an envelope that I hand-delivered to a United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement official. Following this envelope led me to an investigation of the bureaucratic institutions involved, which both produce and then later receive the documents. I argue that the apparent transparency of the resettlement process facilitates and justifies its concomitant opacity.