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

by Jagat Sohail

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Submission summary

Authors (as registered SciPost users): Jagat Sohail
Submission information
Preprint Link: scipost_202211_00050v2  (pdf)
Date accepted: 2023-03-16
Date submitted: 2023-01-21 15:50
Submitted by: Sohail, Jagat
Submitted to: Migration Politics
Ontological classification
Academic field: Political Science
  • Migration Politics
Approaches: Theoretical, Observational


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.

Author comments upon resubmission

I would sincerely like to thank both reviewers and the editor, for their continued efforts and comments on this manuscript. I have tried to incorporate as much of the new feedback as I felt possible, and below I detail some of the changes and my thoughts with regards to a few of the comments.

Reviewer 2 felt that the choice to use the term “refugee” was still under-justified in the manuscript. Accordingly, I have now moved my justification from and endnote to the main body of the text to clarify that I use the term because of the self-identification of my interlocutors, rather than as a result of the legal status they were ultimately able or unable to obtain. Further, I believe the fact that much of the bureaucratic apparatus that sorted my interlocutors in different sectors/segments of the economy was contained within the field of asylum. Thus while other migrants are likely subject to structures, my choice to focus on refugees is meant to emphasise the way an economization of the field of asylum was crucial to the story of how these new hierarchies emerge. To reflect this, I now also reference this reason in my justification in the main body of the text on p. 3.

Reviewer 2 also expressed reservations on my use of the term “ethnic” and “ethnic economy” particularly in the case of subcontracted labour. To clarify, while the overall security sector is certainly not an “ethnic economy” or an “enclave economy”, those of my interlocutors that were recruited through co-ethnic contacts worked, almost exclusively, in workforces made up of other refugees and migrants like themselves. I now clarify this on p. 18. There is some detail here that I have chosen to leave out - like the usage of permanent “white” employees in managerial positions. Yet, importantly, not only is the position of my interlocutors marginalised, as the Reviewer suggests, but it is relatively so - none of my Pakistani interlocutors were able to obtain these jobs, who lay outside these recruitment networks, and often settled for far more precarious labour. This is why I believe the use of the notion of “co-ethnicity” helps, because it defines not only a general marginality, but a dynamic and multiple process of boundary formation that is related to, but also exceeds, the market.

Reviewer 2 also pointed out a few grammatical and formatting errors which have been addressed in this manuscript. The new manuscript now also clarifies that my use of the “camp” is meant to be only allegorical, and though in the case of my interlocutors, there really was a literal return to the “camp”, I do not intend to make that the focus of my argument more broadly.

Finally the editor has asked for some clarity with regards to the formal/informal divide I allude to in my article. The new manuscript now reflects these revisions. On p. 13, I clarify that while Haider worked at a hotel, he worked “off the books”, and without a legal contract. Further on p. 18, I clarify how, while many of my interlocutors who worked in private security did have limited or temporary contracts, the were often, “illegally, made to work several additional hours off the book. This strategy of “organised informality” (Gooptu, 2013, p. 10) is central to understanding the functional role played by subcontractors who provide labour at lower costs while limiting legal liability for parent companies who conveniently look away from these practices.”

List of changes

The choice to use the term “refugee” is now justified in the main body of the text to clarify that the term is used based on the self-identification of interlocutors, rather than legal status.

The fact that much of the bureaucratic apparatus that sorted interlocutors in different sectors/segments of the economy was contained within the field of asylum is now referenced in the main body of the text on page 3.

The nature of the labour relations in private security is now clarified on page 18 to indicate that while the overall security sector is not an “ethnic economy” or an “enclave economy”, those interlocutors recruited through co-ethnic contacts worked, almost exclusively, in workforces made up of other refugees and migrants like themselves.

Grammatical and formatting errors have been addressed.

The use of the term “camp” is now clarified as allegorical and not the focus of the argument.

The formal/informal divide is now clarified on page 13 and 18 to indicate where interlocutors worked without legal contracts or "off the book" (Haider) , and where there were contracts but a situation of "organised informality", meant that much of the labour was nonetheless outside the scope delimited by the legal arrangements (Khaled and the Private security industry).

Published as Mig. Pol. 2, 002 (2023)

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