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Believing in Light after Darkness:

The Displacement of Refugee Resettlement

Under contract with University of California Press

With more than 25 million refugees globally, we are facing one of the largest forced displacements in history. While most refugees remain in camps and cities in neighboring countries, some eventually gain access to resettlement. Resettlement is considered one of three durable solutions for refugees and provides an alternative to protracted displacement when repatriation and local integration are impossible or unlikely. Rather than framing resettlement as a solution that marks the end of a refugee's challenges, I demonstrate how the displacement of forced migration extends through the initial resettlement phase as refugees contend with housing, family and parenting, employment, and identity. My book project offers a paradigm shift in how we think about the early stages of a refugee's resettlement. I show how humanitarian programs are not purely benevolent and can create new conditions of uncertainty and vulnerability. In reality, resettlement marks another uprooting and readjustment for refugees who may have already rebuilt their lives numerous times.


Based on over 1,000 hours of ethnographic fieldwork at a refugee resettlement agency in San Diego, CA and Boise, ID and 102 interviews with refugees and service providers, I reconceptualize early resettlement as a time of disorientation and disruption rather than one of settlement and integration. The manuscript progresses through the stages of a refugee’s resettlement and examines how displacement permeates multiple domains of refugees’ lives as they settle in a new country, addressing issues of geography, well-being, economic incorporation, and trust.

This research was supported with funding from the National Science Foundation and P.E.O. International.

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