Civicness in exile: The solidarities and struggles of South Sudanese refugees in Cairo

Ibreck, Rachel and Seeka, Angelina. 2022. Civicness in exile: The solidarities and struggles of South Sudanese refugees in Cairo. Journal of Civil Society, 18(2), pp. 219-238. ISSN 1744-8689 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

We explore refugee solidarities and struggles under conditions of extreme political exclusion and violence, based on collaborative ethnography with South Sudanese refugees in Cairo. From the perspective of the refugees, the city is hostile and precarious. They are routinely subject to racism, deprivation, and arbitrary applications of law. At the same time, South Sudanese people have historical roots in Cairo and have generated forms of moral and political order there, shaped by fluctuating relations with each other, the city, and their homeland. We argue that these inconspicuous socio-political structures provide community citizenship at the urban margins. Additionally, we show how refugees strive for legitimate authority, social welfare, and rights in exile, within and beyond these local realms. We label these endeavours ‘civicness’ to capture their situated politics. The refugees’ relations and contentions are distinctive in that they are mostly oriented towards customary and humanitarian authorities, rather than the state; they rely on and encourage quotidian solidarities; and they blend notions of custom with references to human rights and constitutional norms. In this harsh context, South Sudanese refugees deploy civicness to promote survival with dignity and to counteract dehumanizing modes of humanitarian governance.

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This article was supported by the Conflict Research Programme, led by the London School of Economics and Political Science, and funded by UK aid from the UK government [Grant Number GB-1-204428].


South Sudanese refugees; humanitarianism; human rights; solidarity; citizenship; civicness

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30 March 2022Accepted
20 May 2022Published Online

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Date Deposited:

23 Jun 2022 16:07

Last Modified:

24 Nov 2022 11:32

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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