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Alibis of Exclusion: The role of ethnic economies in the differentiated inclusion of refugees in Berlin

Jagat Sohail

Mig. Pol. 2, 002 (2023) · published 11 July 2023


Neoliberal transformations in the field of asylum in Germany have, since 2016, placed an emphasis on labour market participation as the primary way through which refugees can establish long-term residence claims. Yet, while new arrivals are increasingly expected to rapidly integrate into this market, they are often armed with differential and precarious legal statuses which overwhelmingly determine the spheres of economic activity refugees can enter. This is especially true for the ever increasing number of rejected asylum seekers who are temporarily “tolerated”, for whom the only path to residence requires that they display their value as economic subjects to the German state. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Berlin between 2017 and 2020, I argue that, armed with little other than their cultural identities and networks, many refugees heavily relied on co-ethnic relationships to facilitate their participation in the labour market. The result is a displacement of the management of new diversity to ethnic economies, a move that disavows the marginalising consequences of the neoliberal transformations refugees are subject to. By masking a relationship between recently arrived migrants and the German economy and society as a relationship between migrants themselves, I argue that these practices work as alibis of exclusion.

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