Informal Citizens

H10 8

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Abstract

Refugees residing in Montreal embody a complex predicament. It is a condition controlled by regulations and often marked by circumstances of social, racial, and economic marginalization, but also defined by instances where refugees manifest their belonging to the city, create meaning to their lives and carve out agency as non-citizens. This paper addresses some of the positionalities and experiences of refugees specific to Montreal, as their everyday existence oscillates between social inclusion and exclusion− with an emphasis on how inclusion emerges in refugee urban resettlement experiences. Adopting Saskia Sassen’s (2006) notion of “informal citizens,” defined as refugees and undocumented individuals who engage in many of the same practices as regular right-bearing citizens do, I chart some of the ways in which refugees partake in city life, based on Michel de Certeau’s framework on everyday urban life. Informed by other theoretical considerations, as well as by interviews conducted with individuals who once sought asylum in Montréal, I pay particular attention to the contributions brought by refugees to civic and community life, whether individually or collectively, in terms of community involvement, volunteerism, and political activity surrounding refugee and immigrant advocacy. This counters the predominant assumption of refugees being passive and dependent. To counter such stereotypes and misconceptions, I argue that the critical period during which refugees wait for their status to be determined, is, in fact, a moment and site that engenders civic engagement and that institutes their agency and belonging to the community.