No Country for Refuge?: A Critical Case Study of Venezuelan Migrants, Asylum-seekers and Refugees in Trinidad and Tobago

Principal Investigator: Amar Wahab
Funder: SSHRC Insight Development Grant

The principal goal of this two-year research project is to critically investigate the production and contestation of the ‘refugee crisis script’ in the global South based on a case study of state regulation and violence against Venezuelan migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Trinidad and Tobago. The research will explore the multiple and complex ways in which stakeholders of the specific ‘crisis’ actively engage the process of ‘migration management’ as a discourse of national security. The study will specifically focus on: (1) the government of Trinidad and Tobago’s management policies and practices of regulating Venezuelan migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees; (2) the interventions of non-governmental organizations (local and international) in mediating an imminent humanitarian crisis in Trinidad and Tobago, and: (3) the voices and  experiences of Venezuelan migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as their individual and collective responses to social, political, economic, and xenophobic anti-migrant/refugee violence. The project will attempt to place these stakeholders into conversation to open up possibilities for transformative social justice knowledge production through collaboration.

This investigation makes a significant contribution to the ‘critical turn’ in migration/refugee studies, which especially focuses on the development of ‘migration management’ regimes within South-South migratory circuits, while also critically reframing migrants/asylum-seekers/refugees as subjects with agency (i.e. not passive victims). In doing so, this project aims to critically shift the prioritized scholarly emphasis on migration/refuge from the global North to migration/refugee studies within the global South – an area of investigation that is sorely undertheorized. As a critical intervention into critical migration/refugee studies, this project revisits the concept of the ‘refugee script’ to explore the multiple and complex ways in which Venezuelan migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees in Trinidad and Tobago exert agency (using the concept of ‘autonomy of asylum/migration’) in the context of violent regulation in the host country (i.e. the state’s ‘migration management’/security regime).  As such, this project will allow for a critical revisioning of concepts used in migration/refugee studies, grounded from a global South perspective.

The study employs a mixed-method case study approach that includes literature analysis, direct interviews, analyses of social media feeds, and a collaborative discussion forum to illumine the complexities of stakeholders’ perspectives and practices. The project integrates student participation and training throughout the process and culminates in a knowledge mobilization plan that includes the publication of scholarly articles, conference presentations, a public discussion forum that fosters collaboration among academics, government agencies, Venezuelan migrants, asylum seekers and refugees and civil society social justice activists, and an online podcast of the forum that targets a global audience (migrants/asylum-seekers/refugees, academics and activists within the global South.

Disseminating its findings beyond the academy, the project will therefore enrich public discourse about the contested production of the ‘Venezuela refugee crisis’ in Trinidad and Tobago. It will also advance critical scholarship in critical migration/refugee studies—especially through its focus on South-South migration—that will crucially inform/benefit theoretical, conceptual and methodological debates within the academic community for purposes of research and curriculum development. The public discussion forum also gives this study the potential to crucially strengthen dialogue and links among stakeholders in the interest of building a coalitional/political platform premised on collaborative knowledge production and social justice. The project is therefore not only academically timely, but socially and politically urgent.