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N.2/2018 Dell'Uomo e dei Diritti

The Human and the Rights-Bearer.
A Philosophico-Juridical Analysis of the ‘Refugee Problem’

Sabeen Ahmed
Vanderbilt University

Published in December, 2018

The Human and the Rights-Bearer.
A Philosophico-Juridical Analysis of the ‘Refugee Problem’

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This paper examines the distinction between two categories of subjects – legal subjects and merely-human subjects – and the figure who today concretizes the distinction between the two: the refugee. By illuminating the disparity between rights-bearing and non-rights-bearing persons, I hope to illustrate the legal implications of this distinction – and concomitantly, our understanding of legal responsibility – through an analysis of the refugee. Drawing on Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben, and Seyla Benhabib as my main interlocutors, I ultimately aim to provide an analytic platform from which to approach modern refugee crises. In so doing, we are better able to conceptualize the ‘problem of the refugee’ as both a consequence of and necessary condition for the juridical logic of the nation-state. I conclude with two theoretical ‘solutions’ to the ‘problem of the refugee’ – the first drawing from the theory of ‘relational autonomy’ present- ed by Jennifer Nedelsky and the second drawing from contemporary critiques of nation-statehood – and demonstrate how each takes as its ultimate aim the total elimination of the category of ‘refugee’. Ultimately, however, I intend more modestly to give voice to a philosophically underemphasized catastrophe that is plaguing our sociopolitical spheres today, and which will doubtlessly dominate political discourse in the years to come.


refugees, rights, philosophy of law, nation-state, international law

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