Montag, 22. August 2016

Sensing Tempelhofer Freiheit

In: Gökce Yurdakul, Regina Römhild, Anja Schwanhäußer, Birgit zur Nieden, Aleksandra Lakic, Serhat Karakayali (Hg.): E-Book Project of Humboldt-University Students: Witnessing the Transition: Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants in Transnational Perspective. Berlin (forthcoming)

Von Flavia Alice Mameli, Josefine Londorf Sarkez und Anne Van Wetteren

Fotografie: Anne Van Wetteren, Flughafen Tempelhof 2015

„There is something sinister about the way up to hangar 1, walking in the dark”,  I think to myself as I head to the refugee camp located in the former Tempelhof airport-complex. There are not many people at this hour, only small groups of men standing in the dark corners having a smoke. I don’t know where to go and I feel uneasy. […] We are in the building now. I use the waiting time to take a look around. From the back of the canteen I can see the white tents through the window section. The penetrating smell of today’s menu reminds me of the canteens at hospitals or retirement homes. (Field diary, 02.11.2015) [1]

From Flughafen to Fluchthafen

The former airport Tempelhof, in the southern part of Germany’s capital Berlin, was once described by the architect Norman Foster as the „mother of all modern airports” (Lautenschläger 2014, 8). Not only as protected architectural landmark Tempelhof airport still plays a significant role in the perception of the city of Berlin (Lautenschläger 2014, 9). Yet, the ideas and images related to this site vary greatly. It is not only associated with a history of war and division, but is also perceived as an en vogue location for contemporary fashion, kite flyers and urban gardening. Moreover, today Tempelhof airport-complex is witnessing the effects of the biggest migration movement in European history since World War II. In 2015, more than one million refugees have come to Germany and more than 80,000 came to Berlin. On the 12th of November 2015 the city administration announced an emergency plan turning the former airport into a refugee shelter. Up to 7.000 people should be accommodated in the defunct hangars and in limited-period constructions, which should be positioned outside on the field. The hangars are used as transit camp, an emergency shelter for people waiting to get asylum papers and then moving on to a permanent accommodation. Yet, this is an awkward matter since a citywide referendum stopped the former government-housing plan for Tempelhof in 2014. Given the high numbers of refugees coming to the capital, Berlin’s state government suggested to leverage this construction ban in order to build more temporary housing for refugees. Supporters of the citizen initiative „100% Tempelhof”[2] see the undermining of direct democratic participation in this. Hence, „Volksentscheid retten”[3], a new initiative was founded to protest, which is until now supported by about 100 activist groups. Nonetheless, mayor Michael Müller demands a mentality change and „courage for uncomfortable solutions" in order to challenge and to master the present and the future. „It is an emergency solution and it is unavoidable" (Deutsche Welle, 27.08.2015).
Is Tempelhof airport inevitably turning into a powder keg of social inequalities, struggling with the high-density of cohabitation? Georg Classen of the Berlin refugees` advice says, he fears less aggression than „depression" in the hangars: „Two square meters per person, without privacy, without perspective. (…) Tempelhof is the biggest, the worst and probably the most expensive refugee shelter in Berlin“ (Tagesspiegel, 31.08.2015). In hangar 1, twelve men share one tent, in hangar 4 refugees are grouped in 25 squaremeters compartments. Makeshift partition walls are installed in order to create a bit of privacy. There are different day rooms like a dining room, a childcare and a language course room where daily German classes are offered. Moreover, there is the Kleiderkammer, a clothing depot, which supplies the refugees with second hand clothes and hygiene articles.
In the period of October to December 2015 we worked as volunteers in the Kleiderkammer. During our fieldwork, we faced many challenges, such as language barriers, prohibitions and taboos, which demanded our methodological creativity. Seemingly restricted to non-verbal communication and observations in this highly regulated field[4], we found the methods of sensorial ethnography most vigorous as research tools. We ground our approach on the work of the German ethnographer Regina Bendix who underlines the relevance of the senses in the research process and states that sensual sensations and emotions in general, are also a form of knowledge. Hence, doing sensorial participant observations means placing your body in the center of your research and consequently being exposed to not only what you see and hear, but also what you smell, taste or feel. This is what Bendix calls a „multisensory way of doing ethnography” (Bendix 2008, 13). Following Regina Bendix, the ethnological body is the key medium through which we encountered our field.

Doing Sensory Ethnography

Entering the Kleiderkammer at Tempelhof we quickly learned that this was a challenging and sensitive field to study. The participant observation, the ethnographical engagement in the field setting, represents the dual role of the ethnographer. To develop an understanding of what it is like to be a genuine part of the given setting, the researcher must become both, a participant and a distant observer, who describes experiences from a detached point of view. This is perhaps the most classical and primary source of ethnographic data. Even though we experienced how easy it was to access the Kleiderkammer as volunteers and though there were many people such as security staff, volunteers, refugees and translators running in and out we had difficulties getting in touch with the different actors. This challenged our ‘routines’ in participant observation, implying interviews or taking photographs and demanded new ways of approaching the field. We therefore expanded our research input as observing participants by accrediting the sensorial dimension of our experiences as valuable data. With the use of sensory ethnography we found an accessible way to adapt to the situation at the Kleiderkammer as well as giving space to a nuanced set of field notes[5].

The concept of sensual ethnography leads to a sensitization for everyday experiences and scientific observations. For Bendix the use of the body of ethnographers is essential to the sensorial approach. Ethnographers have to reflect on their physical indications such as stress, nervousness or anticipation to do qualitative empirical sensory research (Bendix 2006, 79). A central task of sensory ethnography is to appreciate the performance of the senses as somatic, individual and culturally trained organs. Every conscious or unconscious confrontation with their own sensorium or the one of others, affects the researchers and expands their perception skills.

„Indeed, one of the tasks of the emplaced active participant ethnographer is to learn how to interpret her or his embodied sensory experiences through other people's cultural categories and discourses, and as such to participate not only in their emplaced practices but in their wider ways of knowing” (Pink 2009, 80).

Even more, the Australian anthropologist Sarah Pink sees sensory ethnography as a reaction to the textual representation forms in the empiric cultural sciences and argues that the senses should be moved to the front in fieldwork and scientific research (Pink 2015, 38). The sensorial approach is closely connected to the auto-ethnographic method where the researchers personal experiences and state of being plays a crucial part in the research (Pink 2009, 29). Pink describes the ethnographic sites of sensing as events, which provide access to other people’s experiences and animate the readership to reflect on their own observations and consequently calls the researcher to reflect their own physical nature and sensuality (Ibid, 29).
Furthermore ethnographic analysis involves making connections between on the one hand, complex phenomenological realities, i.e. the specificities of other people's ways of understanding these, and scholarly categories and debates on the other hand. This inevitably involves processes of condensing and translating as well as constructing a narrative and arguments (Ibid, 121f.).

Sensing Tempelhof

I go through an unknown amount of sweaters. ‘Citrus, lavender, dust and mold’, the nauseating smell of old scented washing powder, dust and mold mixes together, fills my nose, and reminds me of going to camp as a child and the smell of clammy basements. As I go through the piles of clothes, I feel my way around by paying attention to the texture of the sweaters. Polyester, cotton, acrylic. I want to find her a wool-sweater. I find a dark colored sweater. I read the text on the small white mark sewed into the left side of the sweater “30% polyester, 70% wool” it says. I can hear the supervisor calling us to end the session and I bring it to her. (Field diary, 21.11.2015)

Throughout our fieldwork we have been concentrating on what lies beyond the spoken word. With an increased focus on smell, touch, sound and gesticulation we have aimed at creating a landscape of the senses as our way of redistributing our experiences at Tempelhof, both as researchers and volunteers. Sensory ethnography is closely linked to auto-ethnography since the ethnographer not only observes and documents other people's sensorial categories and behaviors, but also seeks routes through which to develop experience-based empathetic understandings of what others might perceive (Pink 2015, 9).

She [refugee woman] points to the pictograms taped on the table, which stands between us, separating us from each other. I assume that she doesn’t speak English or German, and I pay attention to the things she points to and notice her rough hands and bare feet in flip-flops. She uses her fingers to show me what size she wants, “three fingers and then nine and then she draws the number in the air” like she want’s to make sure I have understood which size she needs. (Field diary, 30.11.2015)

The relentless nature of our field itself influenced the choice of our research methods, too. Bearing in mind the hectic and overwhelming times in the Kleiderkammer as described above, we needed to develop creativity to investigate most effectively. In the meantime this offered, to us, new ways of studying [inter]actions. Regina Bendix supports the creativity that arises when researchers do not pay attention to the spoken word and instead seek out new ethnographic methods such as sensual or emotional impressions, as compensation for what otherwise would be said with words (Bendix 2006, 72).

A few minutes later the first group of refugees are let in and my thoughts are more or less put on pause. My hands are doing a lot of the communication. I use them to point to pictures or relevant body parts. Everything seems tight and concise. There is no time to really look at the people I meet or to absorb the atmosphere. I am slowly adapting to the fast pace and feeling a bit like a robot running between the refugees and the piles of clothes. As my shift comes to end I am exhausted and my head vibrates from the noise, odor and hectic in the room. (Field diary, 08.11.2015)

Sarah Pink argues for a focus on the emotional state of the researcher, and sees this as  „routes to knowledge and memories, that otherwise can be inaccessible, -a way of understanding other people’s biographical experiences” (Pink 2009, 65). Taking part in the different practices in the Kleiderkammer, we have discovered connections between our personal experiences and the everyday life at Tempelhof. Our subjective impressions of the field have been a highly important part of our research and redistribution (Behar 1997, 13). By paying attention to what we could sense meant almost constant impressions of smell, sound or touch. We experienced mixed feelings of drive, despair, frustration and relief - not knowing which feeling to give most credit to. During our research we have learned that going beyond words and visuals, challenges our own perception and feelings. Our field notes are in some cases marked by a somewhat confusing state of being, which is closely linked to an increased focus on our emotional state. However, Bendix points just to these emotions in doing sensory ethnography and highlights that they should not be reduced, but rather used as enhancement of the sensorial impressions and reflections (Bendix 2006, 78).

Fotografie: Anne Van Wetteren

Volunteering and Researching [in disguise]

At the same time, a subtle atmosphere of constant supervision is enforced on the volunteers. Being clearly instructed by the supervisor about do’s and don’ts and being automatically observed by the other volunteers about our morally good intentions there is not much space for hanging around, examining the structure of the social service or even asking critical questions! It seems like criticism would be an extra burden and much too time consuming for the supervisors and volunteers, not speaking of potential interviews [] (Field diary, 08.12.2015)

The German ethnologist Rolf Lindner argues that ethnographers at times struggle with their role as researchers when entering new fields. The process of establishing interpersonal relations can therefore act as an important source of data, since the subjects' primary definitions of the researcher come into play. On the other hand, by taking on a certain role (in our case as volunteers) the researcher is able to enter the field as an insider. During our fieldwork we were concentrated on balancing our aim as researchers without losing our roles as volunteers. Observing and participating in disguise led to a bipolar situation, where our concealment guaranteed us free access to the field, but also hindered us to fully immerse into it as researchers.

She comes a little closer to me, shyly trying to explain that she also needs some underwear and a set of sanitary pads. I have seen how other volunteers discretely hand over the sanitary pads. I imitate what I have seen, and I discreetly slide the sanitary pads into the hands of the woman. She looks at me, and smiles. (Field notes 30.11.2015)

When we put ourselves in the center of the field of study we „participate in other people's worlds [...] and try to do things similar to those that they do” (Pink 2009, 68). As volunteers we were a part of the everyday routines of the Kleiderkammer and had to get used to a range of procedures such as mapping out where the women sweaters or men’s shoes were to be found, or how to interact with the refugees and other volunteers. In order to learn the different codes of practice, paying attention to the interaction between other actors became crucial to us. This learning process demanded a lot of our time and energy. In some cases the process of handing out clothes made us forget why we were there in the first place, sometimes leaving us even with a feeling of neglecting our role as researchers.

Towards the end of my shift I overhear a student amongst the other volunteers who asks our supervisor if he could make an interview with him for his university project. Without looking up I felt tension arising and after a short silence Felix, the supervisor mumbles something like „ [...] only doing my job here.” (Field notes, 08.11. 2015)

It was not only the restriction of time and opportunities, but also the atmosphere of resistance against investigation that kept us in disguise, since we did not want to jeopardize our connection to the Kleiderkammer as our field of research. Indeed, one of us researchers made the attempt to reveal her "true" identity and was harshly repelled by a fellow volunteer. Hence our ‚unstructured’ and ‚unplanned’ feelings of confusion, affect and neglect became valid information in order to emphasize our sensorial experiences. Sarah Pink argues “being sensorially engaged through participation is not necessarily a planned or structured process of understanding” (Pink 2009, 68). As we have perceived; doing sensory ethnography demands that we sometimes need to adapt to unseen factors in the field e.g. being able to change the course of method when things do not turn out as planned. 

Sensing the „Other”

I am back in the Kleiderkammer. The little square between the glass doors and the tables are filled with people. A woman asks a young man what he needs, using her hands to point and communicate. She doesn’t know that he is one of the few translators that are available in the Kleiderkammer. Fortunately he does not seem offended by the mix-up and laughs about it instead. (Field notes 14.11.2015)

Going to Tempelhof airport-complex nowadays means going to the temporary homes of thousands of people fleeing from their home countries. Our interactions with refugees at the Kleiderkammer were limited to brief encounters across a folding table or a quick look inside the camp area when going to the restroom. We have seen hundreds of refugees during our fieldwork, but we have barely talked to anyone. So how do we prevent ourselves to perceive ‚the refugees’ as homogenous group when studying them from the other side of the folding tables? Edward Said’s work on Orientalism is a key to understanding the process of „othering” the refugee. Said argues that the Westerners way of shaping the Orient as the „Other” has become a way of creating the dichotomies „us versus them” (Said 2003, 22). In the Kleiderkammer we were each confronted with situations of othering regarding our own pre-assumptions about the camp-conditions and people there, often questioning the division between the different actors. Small structural arrangements in the Kleiderkammer like the folding tables created a physical line between the volunteers and refugees. This ‚boarder’ acted as a separation between „us” as volunteers managing the clothing-goods and the refugees as „those” who were not allowed to manage the selection of clothes for themselves. This structure of „us” and „them” functions as a way of creating collective identities and neglects the fact that we all are distinct people from distinct cultures. Instead it becomes a recitation of the relationship between the „strong” Europeans/volunteers and the „weak” Orientals/refugees (Ibid, 39-40).

I am wondering how frustrating it must be for these people to see these mountains of clothes, but still not finding what fits, what they like or is really needed.  I see the scramble at the door, the smile and joy when I call the next ticket in. Then first contact with the volunteer, “Hallo, was brauchen Sie, Pullover? Hose?” Some of the refugees try to imitate the volunteer, while others pluck at their clothes or point at the pictograms. Mostly it ends up in an English-Arabic-German language mixture and wild gesticulation scenarios were the volunteer and the refugee try desperately to make themselves understood. When we finally understand each other, there is a sort of an “Aha” effect and we laugh. That’s my favorite part of this job. Unfortunately, I often see the entering happy faces, leaving angry frustrated and I realize how chaotic the situation at the Kleiderkammer is. (Field notes 12.12.2015)

We quickly became aware of the fact that - despite their status as refugees - the people who came to the Kleiderkammer had a certain style and idea of what to wear, and sometimes did not accept what they were given. During our work as volunteers we have, even only briefly, been confronted with the refugees as individuals and have seen how the different roles in the camp were negotiated. By turning to Erving Goffman who argues that we act accordingly to the settings we are in, we can state that the intense chamber play of the Kleiderkammer confronts our „frontstage” and „backstage” roles as individuals by force (Goffmann 2004, 88). The biased roles of the refugees, the supervisors, security-men, volunteers and us as researchers in disguise are being carefully acted out among each other in a setting where each standing place determines how to act. We might ask the question of how our understanding of these roles are shaped and how we should deal with these biased understandings as ethnographers in order to reach a more neutral ground in our presentation of the field we study.

Generating Valid Results

It is almost impossible to be part of the hectic atmosphere at the Kleiderkammer without indulging yourself into the situation. Even if you would plan to go there only for scientific reasons, being there in the middle of your field, the situation would demand your participation in the form of volunteering. In this cramped chaos with the coming and going of people, between a multitudinous topography of clothes there is simply no space – psychologically and physically - for standing apart. In this sense the Kleiderkammer creates a binary situation that leaves hardly room for interpretation: Either you help or you go.

Our way of approaching the field has demanded an increased focus on our senses and emotional state. These elements are, in our case, seen as crucial, since the subjectivity of the observer has an influence on the research process (Behar quoting Devereux 1996, 6). At times we have felt uncertain about the great amount of personal experiences being too biased, and question whether these subjective reflections have any value in our academic work. However, there is naturally a dimension of subjectiveness in the narration of sensorial auto-ethnographic stories (Pink 2009, 67, Behar 1996, 5-6). Our goal as vulnerable researchers is therefore to reflect on our experiences in order to reach an unbiased ground (Behar 1996, 13-18) by combining as many views on the field as possible we avoid that individual assumptions turn into judgments. Instead we look at where our stories intersect and differentiate in order to create a more nuanced presentation that also challenges our own potential prejudices in our multiple roles as members of society. We argue that the intersection of our different perspectives and experiences as four individuals, i.e. the crossing of our sensorial torches in the Platonian cave of the Kleiderkammer, leads to a reliable picture of the ‚real’ situation in a specific realm of a refugee camp in Berlin.

Sensing Welcome Culture

Our experiences are so far limited to a handful of visits only lasting a couple of hours. Even though we have only been there in a short period of time of some weeks, we have seen a large number of migrants living very closely together, not having proper footwear or clothes. We have seen a lot of families, young males, a small amount of elderly and almost no young females or teenagers (both male and female). We have felt and folded an unknown amount of different textiles when working our way through stacks of clothes and shoes. We have seen underwear and sanitary pads discreetly being given to a female refugee. Men, women and children pointing to pictures of trousers, scarves or jackets, using their hands to explain what size they need. We have heard how it sounds when Farsi, Arabic, German, English and other unknown languages try to communicate in an emergency clothing depot. We have heard the voices of babies crying, children playing and screaming, mothers shouting and organizing leaders orchestrating the 15-minutes short clothes-hand-out sessions. Some of us have even dared to sneak around in the camp area in order to get a sense of the refugees living conditions. We have experienced a lice and scabies-epidemic among thousands of people, and seen the anxiety it creates in a small group of volunteers. In the great halls of the former airport Tempelhof we have experienced the smell of warm tea with sugar, food being cooked and children eating sweets, the smell of urine in dirty toilets, the smell of sweat from volunteers and migrants, the smell of handing out new and worn out clothes donated by people all over Berlin. It is hard to subsume the variety of impressions we made as individuals: Our time in the Kleiderkammer has been happy, heartbreaking, frustrating or even relieving and it has always been very intense.

Sensing Welcome Culture in our society

The camp is attacked by lice and scabies. The sign „attention; lice and scabies” makes me feel uneasy, but I decide to go in. As hygienic precaution the supervisors recommend that we all wear gloves. One of the supervisors says to me „We should give these people a piece of ‚Willkommenskultur’ and show them that we are an open society”. Eventually he decides not to wear the gloves. I watch how two volunteers go to the hand sanitizer every five minutes to disinfect their hands, while the nauseating smell of fumigant slowly fills the room. (Field notes 06.12.2015)

In a situation of uncertainty and linguistic barriers, our hands become an important device of communication. Indeed, the hand is the most frequently symbolized part of the human body, the „tool of tools” (Alpenfels 1955, 6). Hands are used as a utility, to complete tasks, and to express one’s self in a way that words often cannot.  They are expressive and symbolize strength, power and protection. Any human culture throughout history created rituals performed by manual gestures expressing generosity, hospitality and stability, as form of welcoming and friendship (Alpenfels 1955, 7). At the Kleiderkammer, we didn’t talk a lot to each other, neither to the refugees nor to other volunteers. We were there to help, in other words, ‚to lend a hand’. As our field notes portray above, we collected, sorted and grabbed in mountains of clothes. Although prehension is the major function of the hands, they are at the same time, one of our primary sense organs. Indeed, our hands became the main medium to interact with the actors of our field. With their hands people communicated their essential and aesthetic needs. Different hand signs, like ‚thumb up’, the painting of numbers in the air or waving somebody to come closer, we articulated our will to help, but also communicated the procedures of our service at the Kleiderkammer. Without touching anybody, moments of closeness and empathy rose in this regulated and controlled setting.

The irrational decision of volunteers not wanting to put on gloves in danger of lice and scabies, in order to avoid an atmosphere of othering is a key scene depicting how Welcome Culture is perceived in our western society. The glove is intuitively sensed as a ‚boarder’, separating volunteers and refugees, leading to emotional and rather unreasonable conclusions about how to perform ‚togetherness’. Volunteering barehanded is elevated as a moral obligation of expressing empathy and the willingness to help.  


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Josefine Løndorf Sarkez
Daring to trust the senses of oneself as a researcher has been an inspiring and eye-opening way of doing ethnography, which has led through unfamiliar ethnographic paths and towards new analytical insights. 

Flavia Alice Mameli
Coming from a design background and researching in the field of urban appropriation strategies it is the intersection of different disciplines, which I find most fruitful and productive during the process of knowledge production.

Anne van Wetteren
Curiosity, reading and writing are essential aspects of ethnography. This is more or less the case for all academic research. For me doing ethnography includes an important sensual component, which surfaces in researching. It's all about being tickled by first-hand experiences with the object in study and with one self.

Der Beitrag entstand im Rahmen des Master-Seminars "Ethnografische Methoden der Stadtforschung" bei Anja Schwanhäußer im Wintersemester 2015/16 am Institut für Europäische Ethnologie der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

[1] Berlin’s city marketing campaign established the brand „Tempelhofer Freiheit“
[5] „Eine die Sinne miteinbeziehende Feldforschungspraxis wird die emotionale Dimension (die sich bei manchen als Lust am Feld zeigt), nicht verringern, aber vielleicht doch einige Beobachtungs-und Reflektionswerkzeuge enthalten die den emotionalen Haushalt ergänzen“ (Bendix 2006, 78).

Bitte diesen Beitrag wie folgt zitieren: 
Flavia Alice Mameli / Josefine Londorf Sarkez / Anne Van Wetteren (2016): Sensing Tempelhofer Freiheit. In: Gökce Yurdakul, Regina Römhild, Anja Schwanhäußer, Birgit zur Nieden, Aleksandra Lakic, Serhat Karakayali (Hg.): E-Book Project of Humboldt-University Students: Witnessing the Transition: Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants in Transnational Perspective. Preview (Weblog),;postID=3697950972162993466;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=0;src=link

It’s a war against our own body. Long-term refugee women’s strategies of adaptation to the withdrawal of relief organisations in Dakar, Senegal.

Celebration under tension for the International Refugee Day 2015 in Dakar, Senegal.
Von Agathe Menetrier

These few powerful words are L.’s. She has been living as a refugee in Dakar for years. We sat in the office she shares with her colleagues from the refugee women’s committee. The room also serves as workshop for soap production, an activity in which the UNHCR offered them a training to enhance their financial autonomy. The budget is though too scarce to buy supplies, so that the room rarely sees a soap produced.
Asylum is currently at the centre of the public debate. The political debate largely focuses on who deserves a refugee status and who does not. In this context refugees’ biographies are commonly narrated as journeys that start with the flight and end with the obtainment of a legal status in the hosting country. While asylum is understood to correspond to a legal status ensuring protection for persons accessing it, few raise the question of how this protection is ensured along refugees’ long experience of exile. When the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) allocates its budget to new refugees crises as a priority, long-term refugees elsewhere are expected to become independent from the organisation and its partners, after years, or sometimes decades, of assistance. For refugees interviewed for this research, it is time to consider their long relationship with relief organisations and remember the promises that have been honoured and those that have not. One of the UNHCR’s missions has notably been to “promote the equal right of women and girls” (2007, 3). In this paper I want to explore how the UNHCR’s advocacy of gender equal protection is maintained in the field over the years, that is to say once the emergency of the mission has past.
The case study upon which this work draws is the situation of long-term urban refugees in Dakar.[1] West Africa has historically been a place of population mobility, from forced displacement due to slave trade and colonial forced labour, to work migrations facilitated by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Over recent decades, the hundreds of thousands of West Africans who had fled violence and persecution in their country of origin, had to turn to an international body, the UN, to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. Considering its number of national offices and its significant budget, the UNHCR is undoubtedly the main actor of refugee protection and relief,[2] although the implementation of its activities relies much on local partners. Over the last twenty years, the UNHCR has supervised the protection and assistance to Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, Ivoirians, Gambians and Mauritanians seeking asylum in Senegal.[3] Today the organisation is in an exit strategy. Considering that long-term refugees are in the end of a process of ‘local integration’ into the Senegalese host society (culminating in naturalisation), the UNHCR asks its implementation partners in the field to gradually withdraw from a system of direct assistance to refugees. Refugees and asylum seekers who live in Dakar find themselves in an ambiguous situation. Because of their geographical proximity with UNHCR’s and partners’ offices, their everyday life followed the rhythm of regular visits to these offices. Interestingly, refugees’ relationship with those street-level humanitarians does not stop together with the cessation of aid.[4] Through a focus on programs and discourses targeting refugee women, this paper contributes to understanding the evolution of this relationship.

Exile: a gendered experience.
Especially in times of violent conflict, women are often reduced to the duties of essential biological reproduction (Anthias/Yuval-Davis 1993). Historically, wars have been fought by men to protect the “womenandchildren” (Enloe 1990). Within nation building and protection, different contributions are expected from citizens according to their gender. From these different kinds of citizenship arise different experiences, and experiences during times of wars or armed conflicts provide a poignant illustration of this difference (Yuval-Davis et al. 2005).
Having understood war as a gendered phenomenon, it is not surprising that the aftermath of violent conflicts entails gendered differences, too (Jones 1994). When a conflict explodes next door, it tends to violently affect civilians (women, older men and children) as well as the men in combat, with the difference that men often remain the primary targets of killing and imprisonment. The civilians, of whom the majority are women, who have remained at home to take care of the children and the elderly, are the ones who will flee. If one includes internally displaced persons, a large majority of the world’s refugees are indeed women and children (Lindsey 2001). Becoming a refugee is inevitably a gendered experience, since war is a gendered experience. But how well has this gender aspect been taken into consideration within asylum law and refugee assistance?

Gendering asylum law and refugee assistance.
There is no doubt that, thanks to women’s groups’ and feminist lobbying of the UN and the EU in the late 1980s and early 1990s, gender-related persecutions have been put on the international agenda. However, its transfer into policy of national asylum regimes have been much slower or non-existent (Freedman 2007, 93). Local constraints, political interest or cultural beliefs have often prevented national institutions and local actors from legally interpreting gender-related persecution as a continuum of structurally embedded gender inequalities (Moser 1993; von Braunmühl 2013).[5]
Pressure by human rights feminist defenders and women’s groups, as previously touched upon, have initiated attempts to gender asylum law as well as the entire system of refugee relief. At the first World United Nations Conference on Women held in Mexico in 1975, the First World Survey on the Role of Women in Development, published by the UN, uncovered the scale of sexual violence suffered by women not only while they flee but also once they obtained the status of refugee. The UNHCR reacted by presenting a paper titled The Situation of Refugee Women the World Over at the World Conference for the Decade on Women in 1980 in Copenhagen. It marked the beginning of a growing international attention towards refugee women. At the end of the 1980s the UNHCR mandate had adapted to states’ reluctance to host refugees and its mission evolved towards emergency relief; providing material aid to refugees sheltered in camps in regions of conflicts (Glasman 2016). Highlighted by the closed setting of the camps, the number of women among the refugee population became much more visible. The unequal access to food and non-food items (NFI) and the lack of opportunities for women to participate in decisions regarding the organisation of the camp highlighted the need for a more gender-sensitive method of assistance (Freedman 2007, 41). In reaction to the critiques climaxing in the creation of an International Group for Refugee Women, the UNHCR appointed a Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women in 1989 and a series of reports focusing on refugee women were published by the UNHCR.[6] According to its self-assessment, the organisation has managed to evolve from an approach of “targeting women as a special group” to “mainstreaming gender, diversity and age” (2013a, 4). In other words, the UNHCR acknowledges that the needs for protection and the expression of these needs differ not only between refugee men and refugee women, but that they also vary according to a person’s sexual orientation, age and social environment. This intersectional intention has been welcomed by scholars, who however criticised the limited effort to operationalise according to the needs (Freedman 2007; True/ Parisi 2013).

Making refugee women visible.
Making UNHCR guidelines operational is precisely the task that street-level humanitarians are left with in the field. As is customary for UNHCR missions, a local NGO is paid by the UNHCR to run activities with refugees in Dakar. Each year a convention has to be signed, regulating the management of programmes and the funding allocated. The signing of the convention for the year to come depends upon the results presented by the partner NGO and the UNHCR’s satisfaction with those. Evaluating results is a central task in street-level humanitarians’ work-life. They are thus confronted with the difficulty of making their mission of mainstreaming gender (along with Age and Diversity) traceable, quantifiable. Communicating on refugee women is easier than communicating on gender inequalities. The number of sensitisation sessions organised during a period of time and the percentage of women participating in symbolic celebrations is easier to determinate than the degree to which these sessions address refugee women’s preoccupations. It is therefore not surprising that the often denounced shortcuts about gender unequal protection seem to be at stake when one observes activities targeting refugees living in Dakar: refugee men (or men in general) are completely absent from talks about what is depicted as refugee women’s issues, and refugee women are displayed as a homogenous group, a group which must be made visible. Five years after the introduction of the UNHCR’s policy on Age, Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming from the 2010s onwards, little trace of an intersectional endeavour is to be found in UNHCR and partnering NGO practices of assistance.

Giving priority to refugee women “at risk”.
If gender mainstreaming remains a women’s issue in street-level humanitarians’ assistance to refugees in Dakar, it seems to be based on refugee women’s intrinsic vulnerability. Refugee women are considered at risk, even though the risks they are specifically facing are never stated explicitly. Refugee women’s vulnerability is aligned with their role as mothers, whereas here again, the types of risks they specifically face as mothers remain blurred. Activities directed at refugee women (mainly sensitisation sessions and rare material distribution) all involve subjects that concern their bodies (nutrition, hygiene, uterus cervix cancer). Sexual assault is also treated as a women-only issue, since sensitisation sessions target refugee women and aim at changing their risky behaviors.[7] Handling these subjects as refugee women’s problems creates an amalgam between the consequences of these issues, displayed on women’s bodies, and the structural social roots behind them, which obviously go beyond women’s bodies.
Refugee women are categorised as vulnerable per se, women heads of household as particularly at risk, and sexual assault as being central to the risks they face. This prioritisation might have been operational and even justified in situations of emergency relief in camps, where interveners[8] had to be careful that women were not left out of camps organisation; to distribute more food and other NFI to women heads of household; and to protect refugee women from sexual assaults at the fringes of the camp (Freedman 2007). But it is questionable whether this focus on vulnerability is adapted to address the preoccupations of long-term refugee women living in an urban setting and to whom direct aid is no longer distributed. Indeed, if one agrees that a sick person no longer necessitates care when he*she[9] is healed or that a child is no longer vulnerable when he*she grows up, when is a refugee woman considered to have overcome her vulnerability? Street-level humanitarians interviewed have presented women’s vulnerability to be a tool to measure priority for aid distribution. Simultaneously vulnerability is advanced as the reason behind the very risks that refugee women are considered to be facing. One must note the apparent tautology of this relationship between women and vulnerability. It is therefore hard to conceive that refugee women will ever be considered by street-level humanitarians for other activities than those emphasising their risks.

        Making entrepreneurial refugee women.
As the UNHCR gradually withdraws from direct aid to long-term refugees residing in Dakar, the organisation and its partners increasingly emphasise the importance for refugees to become financially autonomous. Street-level humanitarians consider that most urban refugees in Dakar have resided long enough as refugees amidst the local population to be assimilated and treated as Senegalese. They celebrate refugees who have managed to find a job in the city and now earn a relatively good income, presenting them as examples to follow. This path of integration through a successful career does not seem to be open to refugee women. Indeed refugee women are considered to have a poor entrepreneurial spirit, and are therefore trusted with smaller micro-loans[10]. They are though still expected to prove their enthusiasm and motivation to become financially autonomous, as the contrary is regarded as profiting from relief organisations. On the one hand UNHCR and its partners train refugee women, teaching them the importance of becoming financially autonomous, because they consider them to be better providers for their family than refugee men.[11] On the other hand it is precisely this social responsibility or carefulness that is reproached to them by interveners (when they prefer not to trust them with important micro-loan amounts, for example). Refugee women are expected to become financially autonomous from the UNHCR and its partners but considered unfit for the entrepreneurial ideal celebrated by street-level humanitarians.
Refugee women’s continuous adjustment to contradictory incentives.
The refugee women I met, who have resided in Dakar for several years (sometimes decades), try to adapt to the aforementioned incentive of financial autonomy. To manifest their will to become autonomous from interveners’ aid, they even often themselves use UNHCR and partners’ vocabulary of becoming autonomous, go to trainings.[12] Their willingness to become autonomous economically extends as far as the private sphere. For example they would agree to open their homes to a micro-loans company who assesses mortgageable belongings, in order to prove their ability to reimburse a potential loan. But their belongings do not suffice as a guaranty to be granted a micro-loan. In general refugee women’s adjustments to incentives of financial autonomy do not suffice to be taken seriously as economic agents by the UNHCR and its partners.
The refugee women I interviewed in Dakar thus continue positioning themselves as vulnerable in front of street-level humanitarians. Consciously portraying oneself as victim has often been pointed out by scholars as a tactic among others to survive and gain access to aid from relief organisations (Utas 2005; Ratner referenced in Freedman 2007, 115). In Dakar, long-term refugee women have learned the vocabulary and criteria of vulnerability upon which direct aid might be distributed. Even though direct aid has been cut, they plead for their case in the hope to be granted the scarce remains of financial or material aid. This incentive of proving one’s vulnerability to access aid extends to the private sphere, as refugee must be open to an inspection of their home at any time for surprise visits aimed at assessing their living conditions. I find home visits quite striking as examples of refugee women’s adjustments to interveners’ contradictory incentives. Indeed the micro-loan company can visit a refugee woman’s home on a Monday morning to verify her entrepreneurship potential (finding mortgageable goods, as mentioned before), then in the afternoon the same person can receive a surprise visit from the NGO social worker coming to verify the vulnerability of her situation, according to which she might be granted direct financial aid. But again, neither adjusting to incentives of entrepreneurship nor vulnerability can insure a regular income in this time of UNHCR’s exit strategy. Indeed none of the refugee women I met in Dakar had beneficiated of a micro-loan, and material or financial aid has become so scarce that it is impossible to count on it on a regular basis.
Refugee women’s body as site of collision of contradictory incentives: the example of paid sex.

Street-level humanitarians taking a break in Dakar, Senegal.

It is hard to know how many or how often refugee women practice paid sex in Dakar. Noting that every refugee woman I interviewed raised this topic without me previously asking about it, I had to conclude that many refugee women relate to the subject, directly or indirectly. Considering their lack of opportunities to become financially autonomous through entrepreneurship, and the impossibility to count on regular aid, refugee women seem to see prostitution as one option to earn money in order to meet their basic needs:

“If someone offers: ‘I will go out with you in exchange for money’, do you think that you will refuse? Sometimes you do not have a choice. I do not have another source of income.” (L., refugee women’s committee)

Receiving money in exchange for sex is not illegal in Senegal, and the UNHCR does not criminalise prostitution[13] (UNHCR 2003; Department of State 2009). Fouquet’s extensive research on night life and paid sex in Dakar has shown that it covers a multitude of different practices. From occasional paid sex in night clubs to continuous financial support by a much older partner, those whom he calls city adventurers reinvent their social positioning and try to enter new worlds through their practices (Fouquet 2011). It is interesting to note that refugee women who talked to me about paid sex never mentioned the word prostitution. They live in Dakar for years, sometimes decades, and all of them have a legal status. They consider themselves protected from the persecutions they fled (“You are not persecuted” L., refugee women’s committee) in their country of origin. Their recourse to paid sex does not occur during the emergency of war[14] but rather in a context of economic emergency, within the safety of the host country. The message transmitted by refugee women I interviewed in Dakar was that being paid in exchange for sex is for them a constrained, but active decision.[15]
Observed on a financial level, the income that refugee women earn through paid sex represents an amount that they will not ask in the form of aid. By (partially) sustaining their needs, they thus successfully adjust to interveners’ incentive of becoming financially autonomous. If one considers this activity through the lens of the income it generates, refugee women who practice paid sex behave like the entrepreneurs that the UNHCR and its partners encourage them to become.
However, paid sex does of course not correspond to relief organisations’ image of entrepreneurship. Even though its financial outcome responds to incentives of financial autonomy put forward by interveners, paid sex does not represent an activity easily valuable, nor evaluable as such. It is hardly quantifiable as source of revenue, it implies physical and health related risks and slippages into situations of coercive or forced prostitution are hard to prevent. It is thus difficult for street-level humanitarians to speak of refugee women who live from paid sex as successful autonomous entrepreneurs.
On the other hand, prostitution of refugee women is a phenomenon which interveners can hardly ignore (as mentioned earlier, every refugee woman interviewed openly mentioned the subject). As field agents, they must therefore position themselves in relation to it. As the UNHCR and partners do not directly criminalise refugees’ practice of paid sex, their rejection of refugee women’s behaviours finds its expression under the more excusable explanation of women’s vulnerability. Indeed being an activity linked to refugee women’s bodies, prostitution is easily explained by the intrinsic vulnerability they are considered to embody (“She is at risk, that someone tells her that he wants to help her, but in exchange for payment, that she has to sleep with him.” (N., NGO worker)) The subject of paid sex is covered in sensitisation sessions together with the topic of sexually based violence (“In terms of violence against women, sexist and sexual violence and also fight against, how shall I say, because there are certain women who prostitute themselves.” (A.D., NGO worker)) Paid sex is solely regarded as a risk facing refugee women’s bodies, like sexual assault and rape. The subject is solely framed in terms of forced prostitution, quite telling for this is the appellation survival sex with which interveners systematically report prostitution on official documents (it would be provocative but one could ask if continuously asking for aid at interveners offices could be called survival begging). Rape and prostitution are dealt with by interveners as interchangeable illustrations of one and the same general risk to refugee women’s bodies. Refugee women are therefore not considered as agents but as victims of their decision to practice paid sex.
Essentialising paid sex as yet another risk facing vulnerable refugee women poses a problem for refugee women who try to adjust to street-level humanitarians’ incentives both of financial autonomy and vulnerability. This contradiction is quite evident in the way refugee women who work as relays between interveners and their community[16] have framed the topic. On the one hand, as mentioned before, they express that prostitution constitutes a source of financial autonomy, on the other hand they are also responsible for sensitising their peers against it (“We sensitise against it a lot” L., refugee women’s committee). This contradiction results in turn in their alignment of refugee women being victims of rape –a crime of which they have been passive victims– with refugee women’s –constrained but active– decision of prostituting themselves:

“The person who raped her will give her money so that she remains quiet. She will get a taste and continue. She’ll tell you: ‘I do not have others means, that’s all I can do.’ […] If someone comes to offer her money, it is not rape any more, she will give herself freely to feed her child” (A.B. & L, Refugee women’s committee)

In the words of refugee women working as relays, paid sex is blamed on the woman’s wrong decision, much like the position of street-level humanitarians interviewed, as described earlier (“she will get a taste and continue”, L. refugee women’s committee). This failure is simultaneously excused or explained by refugee women’s general weakness. A.C., a refugee woman working as community relay, said: “They are subject to attempts of prostitution for example, if they want to take the easy option. They are easy targets, just like children.” For A.B. & L.: “The more the woman notices she lacks certain things, the most she would be ready to do, if she is not strong.” (Refugee women’s committee)
         Prostitution is practiced as an active answer to economic misery, but simultaneously justified as an illustration of refugee women’s vulnerability. These justifications can therefore be analysed as adjustments to interveners’ contradictory incentives of becoming financial autonomous on the one hand and being inherently vulnerable on the other.
C.’s story sheds light on how violently these adjustments can play out. She left her country of origin with her son after having been victim of persecution –including gang-rape– because of her political engagement. She was transferred from her first country of asylum to Dakar by the UNHCR in order to be treated after her cancer was discovered. Now that the UNHCR entered an exit strategy in Dakar and cut direct aid for refugees and asylum seekers, her treatment has been interrupted. To provide for her son and herself, she occasionally practices paid sex. Nationals from her country of origin are quite rare in Dakar, as it is relatively distant geographically and culturally. She struggles learning French and the most spoken local language Wolof. As a single woman head of household with limited chances of local integration in Senegal and a serious medical condition, she qualifies for the international Women at risk resettlement programme (UNHCR 2013b). After having successfully passed UNHCR’s successive steps to qualify for a resettlement to the USA (including interviews by several UNHCR agents), a US official came to Dakar and interviewed her, a couple of months before I met her. C. told her story as she had told it to the other agents before. The US American interviewer closed the case after C. mentioned that she had received money in exchange for sex to sustain her needs. Prostitution is considered a crime under US law, C. is thus considered a criminal and disqualified for the resettlement program:

         “When I don’t know what else to do, sometimes if someone says: If you don’t mind lie down with me, I will give you money for you and your son. Once in a while I do that. I told her and she said I was doing prostitution and it is not allowed in the US. I told if you came to know why and how I did that, you would understand. I made an appeal and they said that my case was denied saying that (reading the letter): ‘There is no appeal for a denial of an application of refugee status.’ The reason that they are blaming me for is (reading): ‘you felt to establish that you are admissible to the US.’ That is what I explained to them: I did it not because I wanted to do it. It is not in my religion, it is not in my lifestyle, it is not something I ever dreamt of doing. I did it because I am having a child in my hands whose father has turned his back to.” (C., refugee woman)
I find C.’s case to be a quite striking illustration of constant adjustment that is made to contradictory incentives. For over two years during which she has resided in Dakar without direct aid from the UNHCR[17], she adjusted to interveners’ incentive to become financially autonomous–she clearly describes her recourse to prostitution as a means to pay for her and her son’s daily needs. At the beginning of the interview she had explained that she had come to Dakar for the resettlement programme because “I am a woman at risk” (ibid).[18] Her resettlement case was first opened in November 2013 and for a year and a half she has been in contact with the UNHCR and its partners on several occasions, trying to prove that she qualifies to the category of women at risk [19]. Prostitution being, as detailed previously, presented by interveners and community relays as an illustration of refugee women’s weakness, it is therefore not surprising that C. shared this information with interviewers, to prove her vulnerability. It goes without saying that I did not witness the interview led by the US American official. I can only imagine that C., just as she did with me, the French interviewer, listed all the aspects of her hardship: fleeing from persecution and gang-rape; suffering from cancer; providing for her son on her own; having recourse to prostitution. Used to adjusting the presentation of her case to criteria of vulnerability, C. did not know that the codes would change as she spoke to the US interviewer. It cost her the resettlement she had been hoping for, for two years.
Because of their habit to address issues touching refugee women as women’s issues rather than considering those issues in their social complexity, interveners do not consider prostitution as an economical decision but rather align it with a refugee women’s weakness. Without saying that interveners should encourage prostitution for financial autonomy, I am questioning the benefit of handling paid sex indiscriminately as forced prostitution, and yet another sexual violence that refugee women suffer. In many cases it represents the only source of relatively regular income they can count on. A regular income that they generate without UNHCR and its partners’ aid nor their assistance. Shaming them for this activity and undermining their decision to resort to paid sex by aligning it with the trauma of sexual assault they have experienced or witnessed in their flight, traps them in a state of emergency in which they are eternal victims. One of my interviewees said: “We cannot flee war, and come into war, it’s a war against our own body, our own health.” (L., refugee women’s committee)

Methods and reflection on ethics.
It has to be noted that the majority of refugee women I interviewed for this paper were privileged in the sense that they were working as relays for interveners or were presiding the refugee women’s committee. They might not be representative of all refugee women living in Dakar, as I believe no sample can represent a group of people as heterogeneous and complex as the refugee population in Dakar. It was also a choice driven by my intention to limit the scope of my intrusion in people’s lives, especially because I was only in Dakar for a short term.[20] For this reason I decided not to interview the highest possible number of people but rather to conduct participative observation in places where refugees would meet with street-level humanitarians. It explains how I came in contact with relays and committee presidents, who are more present at such places of gathering. These first contacts permitted me to get to know other, less connected persons though a snow ball effect. This being said, I am of course conscious of the influence that my presence might have had on the behaviours of my interviewees. As a white European woman, UNHCR agents and NGO agents treated me like the interns they regularly welcome in their offices. It of course poses ethical questions on conducting fieldwork with refugees in such a relatively dominant position. Do no harm guidelines guided my decisions in that regard.[21] This being said, as I informed refugee women about my academic project and the unlikelihood of a direct influence on their situation, many of my interviewees responded that they were familiar with research methods and outcomes as they had themselves submitted academic writings or thesis in the past or knew someone who had. I believe that overall my presence did not induce more harm than would the presence of a white European girl interning with the UNHCR or a partner NGO. The extent to which my western understanding of gender has influenced my analysis could of course be discussed. I chose to present several topics in this paper but my analysis is not exhaustive and might have ignored other aspects of equal importance to refugee women.

Literature on refugee relief has often denounced a system encouraging refugees’ material dependency on aid, especially with regards to camps settings (Harrell-Bond 1986; Malkki 1995; Freedman 2007). In the case of long-term refuge in an urban setting such as Dakar, direct aid has ceased but a relation of dependency remains between street-level humanitarians and refugees. Focusing on relief organisations’ gender sensitive practices (which turned out to be solely targeting refugee women), this paper has shown that a withdrawal from direct aid rather implied the emergence of contradictory expectations directed at refugees, and not their disappearance. In response, refugee women have developed the capacity to adjust to the criteria upon which aid or assistance is awarded (at times it is vulnerability, at other times entrepreneurial motivation). Refugee women have built their everyday life according to the UNHCR’s criteria, hoping to correspond to one category or the other (material aid for single mothers, professional training for motivated educated women, resettlement for victims of rape). Their lives in the host country have developed over the years in conjunction with interveners’ incentives (e.g. become financially autonomous) and expectations (e.g. dress less provocatively to avoid sexual assaults). Once tired of waiting for uncertain and scarce aid, some refugee women take the initiative to find a source of income on their own, through prostitution for instance. They are then called to order, required to fit back into the categories provided by the UNHCR and its partners, sometimes violently, as C.’s case of aborted resettlement has shown. These categories do not seem to evolve in response to refugee women’s situations over time, refugee women are rather those who adjust to the evolution of the UNHCR (budget cutting in this case). Years, sometimes decades after their arrival in Dakar, the women I met still identify themselves essentially as refugee women.[22] They can hardly project themselves outside of an eternal emergency state as they continue to be constrained by their assigned categories. A.B. & L, presidents of the refugee women’s committee, expressed it as follows: “One cannot speak of a goal, we tell ourselves that we are living a temporary time. It cannot be forever.”

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Braunmühl, Claudia von (2013): A Feminist Analysis of UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace, and Security. In: Caglar, Gülay et al. (eds.): Feminist Strategies in International Governance. Oxon, 163-180.
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Goffman, Erving (1959): The Moral Career of the Mental Patient. In: Psychiatry 22/2, 123-142.
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[1] A month long ethnography of UNHCR practices of assistance to long-term refugees residing in Dakar was conducted in June-July 2015. All interviews quoted in this paper are thus dated as such.
[2] Indeed while states or group of states (such as the European Union) in the Global North have developed their own asylum systems and institutions, many of the states of the Global South work with or delegate asylum governance to the UNHCR.
[3] Today the UNHCR counts about 16 000 refugees and asylum seekers in Senegal (‘OFADEC Page D’accueil’ 2016 ; UNHCR 2016). According to UNHCR and partnering NGO agents’ assessment, between 2000 and 3000 urban refugees live in Dakar. Approximately half of them being refugee women.
[4] I understand street-level humanitarians to be workers in charge of programme implementation (in this case agents working for local NGOs partnering with the UNHCR. This expression is based on Lipsky’s street-level bureaucrats (1977). Relief organisations function thanks to the daily field work of a variety of local actors that are often forgotten in refugee studies.
[5] An example of national constraint would be an asylum administration lacking female interviewers for female asylum claimants. By cultural beliefs, I refer to the UNHCR’s principle of non-intervention, which, for certain staff members, means putting down gender-related persecution to cultural difference (Baines 2004, 63). This lack of structural approach is visible in administrators’ or judges’ refusals to grant asylum to claimants fleeing violence such as rape or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on the ground that those are traditional uses and limited to the private sphere (for more details on this matter see Macklin 1995; Freedman 2007).
[6] Most notably, Policy on refugee women, Guidelines on the protection of refugee women and Sexual violence against refugees: guidelines on prevention and response (UNHCR 1990, 1991, 1995).
[7] For example provocative clothing is considered a risky behavior (interview with NGO worker).
[8] I borrow the term interveners from Harrell-Bond, a term which encompasses both the UNHCR and local actors as well as cooperating NGOs or INGOs engaged in refugee assistance (1986, xii).
[9] “*” indicates the existence of a variety of gender identities between those commonly referred to as male or female.
[10] As drawn from my interviews with street-level humanitarians, although I did not meet a single beneficiary of a micro-loan –even of a reduced amount- among refugee women I came in contact with.
[11] This idea is quite common in the development world, it corresponds to the WID (Women In Development) approach that emerged in the early 1970s and advocates for investing in women based on the assumption that they are untapped resources for development (Ochola 2010).
[12] Thinking of Goffman’s interactionism, the use of this vocabulary is quite telling of a “front-stage” presentation due to the situation of the interview (1959). But the very fact that my interviewees use this vocabulary shows how conscious they are of the organisations’ incentives.
[13] While the UNHCR denounces forced prostitution and trafficking, prostitution is not illegalised nor is it a reason for withdrawal of status nor aid (Martin & Tirman 2009).
[14] One refugee woman I met expressed that she had already recourse to prostitution on her journey from her country of origin to Senegal, but most of the refugee women I met said that they started this activity in Senegal.
[15] Unlike the situation that my interviewees acknowledged as a threat especially for young girls who can be forced into domestic prostitution. See Martin/ Tirman for definitions of forced prostitution in situations of migration (2009).
[16] Their community is understood by interveners as embracing refugee women in general. See Harrell-Bond for critiques of assumptions that a group of refugees constitute a community (2004, 27).
[17] An operation to treat her cancer was paid by the UNHCR but she had to pay herself for the biopsy and medication.
[18] Showing her knowledge of the organisation’s vocabulary.
[19] The criteria being at “extreme risk of harassment, physical or sexual violence or refoulement” (Freedman 2007, 119).
[20] The financial means I am grateful to have been granted for my master’s thesis by a DAAD funded PROMO scholarship sufficed for one month of field presence.
[21] See Krause for a detailed reflection on ethical field work in situations of forced migration (2016).
[22] This presentation might be linked to a front-stage presentation in reaction to my presence, a European researcher. But as this paper has shown, they live in a continuous front-stage presentation, in front of street-level humanitarians.

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 Agathe Menetrier (2016): It’s a war against our own body. Long-term refugee women’s strategies of adaptation to the withdrawal of relief organisations in Dakar, Senegal. In: Gökce Yurdakul, Regina Römhild, Anja Schwanhäußer, Birgit zur Nieden, Aleksandra Lakic (Hg.): E-Book Project of Humboldt-University Students: Witnessing the Transition: Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants in Transnational Perspective. Preview (Weblog),;postID=3697950972162993466;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=0;src=link