“The refugee” does not exist

What is a refugee? This question might seem easy to answer, but it is not, concludes Catharina Wilson. For 7 years she did research in The Democratic Republic of the Congo near the Ubangi river, on refugees from the Central African Republic. The research shows that among refugees there exists a wide variety of backgrounds, reasons to flee and mobility.

Conflict mobiles

Conflict mobiles are people who move because of conflict. People who flee from violence are thus conflict mobiles, but humanitarian workers, traffickers and businessmen, armed groups, bandits, university students and many others who are looking for a better life also fall under the concept of conflict mobile. Some conflict mobiles are not as mobile as others. Humanitarian workers, for example, can move much more easily than displaced persons. But there are also differences in social mobility; the refugees Catherina Wilson looked at came from the city, were educated and did not live in refugee camps and were therefore more socially and politically mobile than some other refugees.

Wat is een vluchteling?

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The refugee

There isn’t one type of refugee. Fleeing from conflict is just one of the many reasons why people flee. People can flee for reasons that have nothing to do with conflict, such as love or a search for new opportunities. Sometimes refugees go very far to flee and sometimes they stay close by. In addition, not every refugee has the same means to save himself. Finally, each refugee has a different background.

Arbitrary borders

Despite the fact that borders have definitely affected this region, it is not completely divided. Since the pre-colonial slave raids, mobility has had a major impact on the region and on people’s lives. Because mobility is so central to the lives of many people living in this region, the national borders that have been drawn here do not fit their experiences.

African art
Sapin Makengele – L’entretien (The interview)

Text: Lieke Bakker

Video: Lieke Bakker, Catherina Wilson, Lieselotte van der Ven

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