Katherine JensenOct 18, 2023
The Color of Asylum
The Racial Politics of Safe Haven in Brazil
University of Chicago Press 2023
In 2013, as Syrians desperate to escape a brutal war fled the country, Brazil took the remarkable step of instituting an open-door policy for all Syrian refugees. Why did Brazil—in contrast to much of the international community—offer asylum to any Syrian who would come? And how do Syrians differ from other refugee populations seeking status in Brazil?
In The Color of Asylum: The Racial Politics of Safe Haven in Brazil (U Chicago Press, 2023), Katherine Jensen offers an ethnographic look at the process of asylum seeking in Brazil, uncovering the different ways asylum seekers are treated and the racial logic behind their treatment. She focuses on two of the largest and most successful groups of asylum seekers: Syrian and Congolese refugees. While the groups obtain asylum status in Brazil at roughly equivalent rates, their journey to that status could not be more different, with Congolese refugees enduring significantly greater difficulties at each stage, from arrival through to their treatment by Brazilian officials. As Jensen shows, Syrians, meanwhile, receive better treatment because the Brazilian state recognizes them as white, in a nation that has historically privileged white immigration. Ultimately, however, Jensen reaches an unexpected conclusion: Regardless of their country of origin, even migrants who do secure asylum status find their lives remain extremely difficult, marked by struggle and discrimination.
Katherine Jensen is assistant professor of sociology and international studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Alize Arıcan is a Society of Fellows Postdoctoral Scholar at Boston University and an incoming Assistant Professor of Anthropology at CUNY—City College, focusing on urban renewal, futurity, care, and migration. You can find her on Twitter @alizearican.