Discourse and power relations in the asylum legal system: exploring the construction of refugee narratives by legal advocates in Lebanon

Research output: Working paper


Refugees are entitled to legal representation and advice after lodging an application
for asylum status. During that process, they are expected to narrate their own story
and experiences. The scarce academic literature on this subject has pointed out that
refugees are constantly portrayed as apolitical and powerless victims in need of
'saving' from the host State. Drawing on a Foucauldian framework, this paper aims at
exploring 'the ideal refugee narrative' constructed asylum legal system, who
perpetuates and reproduces it, and how it serves systems of dominance and power.
While much academic research has sought to explore refugee narratives in the media
and politics, very few have focused on the ones constructed within the legal system.
Yet, legal advice is one of the most fundamental rights refugees are entitled to. This
article aims at filling this research gap by focusing on refugee narratives constructed
by legal advocates in Lebanon – the country with the highest number of refugees per
capita in the world. In doing so, this study relies on a methodology combining case-
law analysis and five in-depth interviews conducted with legal advocates in Beirut.
Ultimately, this paper argues that the asylum legal system imposes hegemonic
refugee narratives infused with premises of victimhood and other stereotypes.
Refugee women are forced to present themselves as victims fleeing a patriarchal
culture; queer refugees are forced to fit into stereotypes regarding hairstyle, clothing,
and behaviour; and refugee personal stories need to follow Western-based cultural
standards regarding language, time, and space. Asylum-seekers who deviate from
this dominant narrative are denied international protection. This discourse is imposed
by dominant actors in a system structured by profound power imbalances. The paper
concludes with the necessity to approach refugees as rights-holder rather than
discursive subjects
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUCL Migration Unit
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

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