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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Embodied humanitarianism : refugee sponsorship and support from Vietnam to Vancouver Webber, Graham


There is a tendency in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC), to racialize and criminalize recently-arrived minorities. This acts as a barrier to successful integration between newcomers and host groups. The difficulties inherent in these processes have been exacerbated for Vietnamese settlers through the prominence they gained in the media and public discourse during the Allied War in Vietnam, Operation Babylift and the Private Sponsorship Programme. Through interviews and discourse analysis, I have come to believe that the framing of Vietnamese 'refugee' bodies has provided an extraordinary venue for Canada to produce, naturalize and reify the settler nation as humanitarian, compassionate, enlightened, unified and permanent - as more than we truly are - in a collective forgetting of the less press-worthy of our flaws. This discursive strategy intersects and overdetermines the hi/multicultural settler state while also threatening to undermine it. Thus, to a certain extent, Vietnamese (and other) refugee bodies resignify from receptive, when/where the public is in favour of refugee sponsorship, to criminal, when/where they are not. This discursive 'risky refugee' rides the contradictions of liberal humanitarianism, marginalizing the formerly welcomed and undermining the political will to support the refugee process. There are strong interests in the Lower Mainland of BC who work tirelessly to sponsor and support refugees, despite this fickle nature of self-serving public opinion, pressuring the government to live up to its myth. Meanwhile, Vietnamese people in Vancouver, in general, have struggled and fought to rid themselves of the myths created through pejorative racialization and criminalization. My position in this thesis is that we need to relax this space of very constricted possibilities for negotiations around identity and space, acknowledging refugees as more than just under-educated, potentiallydiseased and probably-criminal Others. Suggestions, in the final chapter, come directly from interview material, as all study participants have had at least 20 years of refugee support and advocacy. The more general conclusion, from theoretical, operational and epistemological perspectives, is that we should work through all our diverse vulnerabilities to re-imagine a multiculturalism more expansive than inclusive. I hope my thesis will challenge the shaky short-term humanitarianism of the liberal state, encouraging a more stable and genuine commitment to refugee support

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