A Moral Marriage: Humanitarian Values and the Bhutanese Refugees

A Moral Marriage: Humanitarian Values and the Bhutanese Refugees Abstract Despite lofty aspirations, humanitarian ideals often buttress forms of governance where domination and assistance are explicitly linked. These humanitarian forms of governance frequently deploy moral sentiments to manage refugees. This relationship, between humanitarian governance and morality, is particularly clear in relation to polygamous refugees, refugees that marry across national boundaries and child marriages. During fieldwork with Bhutanese refugees, service providers—whose policies and actions reflected the view these marriage practices were morally corrupt and inherently oppressive to women—approached these practices as a ‘problem’. A willingness to transform such practices promised the Bhutanese refugees an opportunity to become part of an international community with all the attendant benefits (such as resettlement) this entailed. Through the experiences of the Bhutanese refugees, this article illustrates that humanitarian ideals actively govern refugees, while legitimizing broader processes of exclusion and inclusion. In turn, these values help maintain the legitimacy of a nation-based, global order. Introduction Though refugee camps have been critiqued as spaces that warehouse people (Smith 2004), they are increasingly a spot for potential community development and improvement—an oasis where international values can bloom. Exploitative gender relations are transformed, children are made aware of their rights and equality permeates the newly formed refugee communities. As Feldman (2014), Gabiam (2012) and Malkki (1995) observe, camps play a central role in creating, moulding and transforming the lives of refugees. This underscores the observations of Rose and Miller (1992: 175) that modern forms of government attempt to ‘administer the lives of others in the light of conceptions of what is good, healthy, normal, [and] virtuous’. This is not a quirk of multiple and diverse refugee camps, but illustrative of a broader system of humanitarian governance. International regimes of care actively contour what it means to be a refugee (Turner 2015: 6). Humanitarian spaces have moved beyond the bare roots of saving lives towards improving the human condition through moral transformation. Limited funds and the threat of compassion fatigue provide a strong incentive for refugees to conform to these improving efforts. Some of these efforts may herald transformations, but they frequently have unintended consequences. Barnett (2013) and Fassin (2012) both observe that, in a humanitarian framework, power is frequently exercised over those it hopes to emancipate. Thus, as humanitarian efforts strive to help liberate, they also regulate. Crucially, the focus is not to address either the initial events that led to exile or the global structures that maintain their exile. Rather, the focus tends to be on transforming refugees. This does not challenge the nation-state system and may, in fact, create a more stable, legitimate system (Barnett 2005: 733). Camps become a means not of generating equals, but of crafting amenable subjects. As Agamben (1998: 133) argues, humanitarian aspirations ‘maintain a secret solidarity with the very powers they ought to fight’. Funding camps or accepting people for resettlement is increasingly presented, by nations, as a generous gesture rather than the fulfilment of a legal obligation. This gives the impression that such gestures can be easily revoked—these are a form of ‘discretionary humanitarianism’ (Fassin 2008: 213). In this context, refugees must conform to the clear parameters of acceptable refugee behaviours. If we take the ability to enforce values or behaviours as a key determination of a state’s legitimacy (Fukuyama 2004; Farmer 2006), the way that polygamy—and marriage more broadly—is approached can yield insights into the wider implications of governance in humanitarian settings. When these regulations move across the family unit, they can negatively impact on the very people they are attempting to assist—women. The situations in refugee camps and wealthy resettlement countries appear to be drastically different—in many ways, they are. However, the deployment of moral sentiments both at an international and a domestic level is a defining aspect of our times (Bornstein and Redfield 2011). In Australia’s contemporary climate of strict borders and compassionate exceptionalism, the Bhutanese are deemed deserving of humanitarian admission because of their extended time in refugee camps. The experiences of the Bhutanese require a critical reflection ‘on who benefits from assertion of good, bad, and ideal refugees, and whose interests are advanced’ through these distinctions (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 2010: 64). The focus on helping the deserving refugees effectively moves the conversation away from broader social processes that leave refugees (male and female) vulnerable. This article explores the impact that displacement and resettlement have on polygamous families, refugees that have married across national boundaries and marriages of under-age people. It argues that the marriage practices were used as a ‘moral barometer’ to gauge peoples’ virtue as refugees and hence deserving of legal protection, material support or resettlement. The process of evaluating refugees often meant that international ideals went unquestioned as not only universal, but ‘right’, both in the camps and once resettled. This article contributes to the wider—and growing—efforts towards understanding the humanitarian turn in governance through a focused study of the Bhutanese refugees. It does so by following the people (Marcus 1995), first analysing the context that led to the generation of many Bhutanese refugees and their camp experience in Nepal. Then, it discusses their resettlement experiences in Australia. Across these sites, polygamy, cross-national marriages and child-marriage practices are used to examine the broader experience of life under humanitarian governance. It underscores that humanitarian values not only have a clear role in how refugees are governed, but also help to legitimize and normalize an exclusionary, nation-based global order. Governing Refugee States In the late 1980s, an ethnic minority group in Bhutan, the Lhoshampa or south Bhutanese felt the government was threatening their way of life. Systematic ethnic discrimination manifested itself in a series of human rights abuses punctuated by a controversial census that stripped them of their citizenship (Hutt 2003). These actions, by the government of Bhutan, necessitated protests and people began to demand political reforms. Clashes escalated violently until approximately 90,000 Bhutanese were forced to flee between 1989 and 1996 (Amnesty International 1992). After first seeking refuge unsuccessfully in India, the refugees pushed onward to Nepal where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) eventually established seven camps in 1992 (UNHCR 1993). Though the UNHCR worked closely with the Nepali Government and employed local staff, the Bhutanese I worked with understood the camps as a distinctly international space where the UNHCR held ultimate authority. The Bhutanese came under the stewardship of the UNHCR during a period of profound institutional change for the refugee agency. Globally, the number of refugees was growing and the durable solutions of repatriation, local integration or resettlement became increasingly difficult to secure (Loescher et al. 2008). Faced with few options, an earlier emphasis on legal protection no longer provided enough of a solution. Material assistance replaced earlier resettlement-centred approaches to refugees (Harrell-Bond 1986). These shifts moved the UNHCR to a more broadly based humanitarian agency, focused on saving lives and relieving suffering (Cutts 2000). Beyond replacing the legal protections refugees have lost, in protracted situations, the UNHCR (along with their implementing partners) build refugee camps into de facto states (Farmer 2006). Provision of basic physical security, distribution of material goods to protect the poor, funding and encouraging universal education while promoting international ideals such as democratic governance and gender equality are now commonplace. Thus, as they aspired to protect and care for refugees, the UNHCR also transmitted a knowledge system regarding cultural practices, norms and values. Given this scope of duties, the impact was much broader than keeping a precarious population fed. During protracted periods of displacement, camps became a space to manage populations by creating humanitarian subjects that both reflect and have internalized international values. In 2012, when fieldwork began, approximately 69,000 Bhutanese had been resettled, with roughly 1,000 people leaving each month for resettlement (UNHCR 2013: 210). Resettlement is an increasingly rare solution for refugees. The Bhutanese, as part of one of the UNHCR’s largest resettlement programmes to date (International Organisation for Migration 2015), represent a global elite of refugees. In Australia, they also represent the ‘humanitarian heart’ of an increasingly strict immigration policy that has drawn criticism from human rights organizations (the Australian Human Rights Commission, for example). Deserving refugees emerged as synonymous with protracted humanitarian situations—living in refugee camps and coming through a planned process (i.e. the UNHCR referral system). This has the effect of creating a dichotomy between refugees who arrive through formal avenues and those that access informal channels. In this context, accepting a select few refugees became a means to legitimize a highly regulated admission policy. These understandings had a flow on effect that followed refugees after they were resettled, underscoring the coercive efforts to build a nation-state society by excluding outsiders—via control of external borders—and to distinguish between members and unacceptable residents of the territory—through regulation of the internal boundaries (Waldinger and Fitzgerald 2004: 9). While Waldinger and Fitzgerald (2004) were concerned fundamentally with legal citizenship, the regulation of internal boundaries can be extended to discussions of social values more generally. Increasingly, accepting some refugees allowed Australia to reconcile a strict migration policy by equating helplessness, vulnerability and camps with ‘real’ refugees. This has an impact on the reception of refugees and the pathways available to them as they attempt to move beyond their status as refugees. Methodology Over 18 months, between 2012 and 2014, this research moved from South Australia to the refugee camps in eastern Nepal before circling back to South Australia. A multi-sited (Marcus 1995) ethnographic approach proved particularly fruitful for studying the experience of migrants (Leonard 2009) and refugees (Colson 2007). Though I lived outside the camps with a local Nepali family, I used public transportation with the refugees (who worked or shopped in the adjacent towns) for daily commuting to the camps. While my research assistant offered for me to stay with his family in the camps, I was concerned that this had the potential to expose his family to exploitation from local authorities. Participant observation formed the foundation of my ethnographic approach to working with the Bhutanese in both Nepal and Australia. This foundation was effectively supported and complemented by other types of data collection. These included, but were not limited to, snowball sampling, focus groups, as well as quantitative and qualitative surveys. Interviews supplemented observations and informal conversations. These were conducted with individuals, groups and families in a face-to-face setting. In Nepal, I conducted 98 pre-scheduled interviews that lasted approximately one to two hours. I elected only to count interviews that were pre-arranged, though unstructured interviews (conversations) informed much of my analysis. Regardless of the formally or informality of our interactions, participants were informed that I was performing research. I maintained an oral and written consent process, and took numerous steps to protect the identities of my participants. If a participant seemed uncomfortable, I did not pressure them to continue in the research. I frequently reminded participants that they had no obligation to speak with me and that I had no affiliation with any of the agencies working in the camps. In Australia, the overall number of participants was fewer (approximately 40) due to the smaller population of refugees (roughly 1,000 in Adelaide), though the longer period of fieldwork resulted in many more repeat interviews and a greater number of impromptu conversations. In Adelaide, I also interviewed service providers and volunteered for a local council as a Literacy Support Officer. Pulling together diverse, yet complementary, methodological tools, I hoped to increase the academic rigour of emerging interpretations. Ultimately, combining qualitative and quantitative tools helped to ensure the data was relatively representative of the broader group (Flick 2004; Denzin 2012). Heeding the advice of Bryman (1988), who argues that surveys should be developed in consultation with participants, I developed a survey after five months of fieldwork with my research assistant and 20 participants. I elected to survey 1 per cent of the largest camp, Beldangi II, which had a population of 15,000, and sought those 150 surveys to be demographically representative of the camp population. The sample group was based on age, gender and caste or ethnicity. Of course, there were limits to surveying only 1 per cent of the population and a larger sample size would have been ideal. However, this ensured that I was introduced to a representative cross-section of the camp and was a tool to access groups that more powerful refugees barred access. In Australia, one participant suggested that surveys be utilized but there was little support from the larger group so this mode of inquiry was abandoned. This research began with an interest in the way refugees thought of Bhutan. It quickly morphed to reflect the themes and ideas that participants raised. I sought to involve participants in the research process with open-ended questions that allowed them to raise issues that most concerned them. I also consulted with participants through the writing process. Making Marriage Moral I met one woman in the camps who practised polyandry but most polygamous couples comprised a husband with multiple wives. This article focuses on this form of polygamy. Some countries that generate large numbers of refugees (The World Bank 2016) also legally permit polygamous marriages (Tabet 2005: 26). Despite its potential prevalence, in the refugee study literature, polygamy is a subject only referred to in passing. For example, Piran (2004) observed that polygamy was a family arrangement among Afghan refugees living in Iran. Further, polygamy has also been identified as comprising more than half of marriages among refugees from Chad (Rasmussen and Annan 2010). Ghebrezghiabher and Motzafi-Haller (2015) also noted that polygamy was traditionally widespread in Eritrean society and that some refugee families resettling in Israel may be polygamous. These articles, however, do not explicitly analyse how or whether polygamy has changed during flight or once resettled. Muggah (2005), on the other hand, observed that polygamy rates for the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal appeared to be increasing in the camps and flagged this was an indication of generalized social decay. This understanding highlighted the perception reflected through internationally funded projects in the camps: polygamy was an ‘inescapable and barely tolerable institution’ (Okin 1999: 10). The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights mandates that ‘family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’ (Article 16). The family unit is not explicitly defined—suggesting polygamy may be an acceptable unit. However, the promotion of human rights and gender equality seems to be premised on monogamy as the cultural form of marriage that can bring about gender equality (Reanda 1981; Tertilt 2006). This is potentially problematic. As Shah (2003: 2) has argued in regard to polygamy in South Asia, despite the assumption that ‘an outright ban is the right or obvious course of action … this may in fact not be the right approach‘. While a ban is not enforced in refugee camps, specific values are promoted and, as refugees took part in the resettlement, those that do not mirror those values felt they could be excluded from the process. The UNHCR did not directly interfere with the family structure of refugees; there was not a blatant demand that the refugees stop polygamous marriages. However, there was a clear message that it was not an institution that was accepted by the countries that funded the camps. This message became explicit during the resettlement process; families that hoped to resettle generally submitted documentation that additional marriages had been legally dissolved due to the requirements of states that accept refugees (UNHCR 2011: 324). These requirements underscored that polygamy was not legally or morally acceptable in the eyes of the nations that funded the camps or allowed the Bhutanese to participate in resettlement. The UNHCR and International Organisation of Migration (IOM), through their liaisons with countries of resettlement, held specific concepts of marriage that refugees had to reflect to participate in resettlement. Marriages needed to conform to specific guidelines: be between adults over the age of 18 (as defined by UNICEF’s 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child), respect national/humanitarian boundaries (Bhutanese-Bhutanese with few exceptions) and be between two people. Consenting Adults The programmes in the refugee camps in Nepal included efforts towards the empowerment of women and the recognition of the rights of children through a universal education programme supplemented with various workshops, campaigns and training sessions. These were ambitious and laudable goals—seemingly beyond reproach. Yet these transformations frequently required radical social changes while relaying clear messages regarding which norms were acceptable. Limited and sporadic funding provided a strong incentive for refugees to conform to these improving efforts. Older participants maintained that, historically, marriage occurred at a very young age—around age seven for the bride and nine for the groom, though the bride did not enter her husband’s home until she began menstruating. These arrangements were undertaken to ensure the virginity of the bride, in line with patrilineal ideals of descent. A marriage partner was selected by the senior male in the family unit in consultation with a priest or priests. For the Bhutanese, caste was the central factor in the selection of a marriage partner: marriage observed and perpetuated caste lines. Ideally, the bride would be of the same caste but from a different village, ensuring castes remained ritually ‘pure’ without breaking incest taboos. After a suitable match was made, priests evaluated the respective astrology charts to check compatibility and select an auspicious marriage date. Now, due to the changing role of children and concepts of childhood, these child marriages technically no longer occur. Virtually every participant strongly disavowed child marriage as backwards or old-fashioned. Even those who were child brides or grooms themselves described it as ‘uneducated’ behaviour (Interview, Female Refugee, 60s, Nepal, 2013). Many explicitly quoted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and explained that children could not consent to such a union, when discussing their views. To respect the international norms and values taught in the camps, participants stated that arranged ‘promises’ rather than ‘marriages’ occurred. Despite these changes, a similar marriage pre-process occurred. Again, the priest performed a ritual but it was not the marriage ceremony. The degree to which this was binding was difficult to discern. Some of the marriages that took place when I was in the camp saw the couple betrothed from childhood. Most claimed the ritual was loosely binding, with space for negotiation once the children came of age or circumstances changed. The ideals of the Convention on the Rights of the Child thus changed, to various degrees, marriage practices among the Bhutanese in the camps. The convention was also cited and utilized in unexpected ways. The Bhutanese that I worked with also used this framework to critique the ‘love marriages’ of teenagers. A ‘love marriage’ occurred when two youths under the age of 18 eloped. Generally, these couples met at school. They achieved a legal marriage in the nearby city or consummated the union, creating a ‘marriage’ but without the support of their families. Neither of these approaches included a clear role for the senior members of the family, a religious ceremony or the community involvement of a socially acceptable marriage. If a ‘love marriage’ occurred along caste lines, it generally was not ideal but also not heavily criticized. I did not witness or hear rumours of these couples facing intense social pressure to separate. Further, it was still possible to have a religious ceremony performed and the broader community could accept the couple. If a love marriage between teenagers usurped caste divisions, the international framework of values would be called upon to denounce the legitimacy of the institution. Refugees believed that these couples, because they were under the age of 18, could be forced to divorce. ‘Marriage under 18 years is not allowed by the UNHCR, I think, and couples married at a younger age could not migrate together. They often divorce’ (Interview, Female Refugee, 20s, Nepal, 2012). Older participants claimed that the pressure for the two young lovers to separate was not because of transgressions against the caste system, but rather a lack of consent due to age. In this context, the Bhutanese interacted creatively with the values that changed some of their social norms to perpetuate others. There did not appear to be any polygamous marriages or ‘promises’ arranged during childhood. The polygamous couples I met were initially a monogamous couple that later had a subsequent wife or wives join the family, for various reasons. However, the emphasis on marriage being between two consenting adults provides insights into how polygamous couplings are understood. There seemed to be an implicit assumption embedded in the human rights framework that polygamous marriages lacked consent—despite being (as far I as observed) between people the UNHCR considered legal adults. Thus, while a woman may ‘claim the right to choose polygamous relationships … social or religious coercion may cast doubt upon whether they are choosing such relationships freely’ (Richards 2010: 200). My intent is not to argue this understanding is completely void. By understanding refugee women as fundamentally unable to make a consensual decision, however, the need to intervene into the practice of polygamous marriages was further normalized. Respecting National Boundaries National boundaries have not always been a central point in dictating the Bhutanese’s personal relationships—particularly marriage. For my participants, marriage ideally was based on caste hierarchies. The new bride must be of the same caste and ideally residing in a different village. In Bhutan, the different village was not necessarily inside national boundaries. Wives could either come from Nepal or be Indian nationals of Nepalese ancestry. Hutt (2003: 148) similarly found that it was common to marry across national boundaries and this was a factor that may have contributed to their expulsion from Bhutan. I was shown letters in the camps (2012–13) that participants maintained came from the Bhutanese Government and required the non-national married to a Bhutanese citizen to leave the country. The government of Bhutan appeared to view these marriage practices as undermining the legitimacy of the nation state as a distinct entity. In the camps, marriage practices across national boundaries were similarly deemed problematic, becoming a site of humanitarian intervention and evaluation. This was partially because resettlement promised admission to a wealthier world to which access is an increasingly scarce opportunity. Virtually every participant was keenly aware that refugees had access to a resource to which the locals were not entitled. In the camps, the divisions between undeserving local and deserving refugee emerged as a morally acceptable division partly because it underscored the legitimacy of national boundaries. Thus, though they spoke the same language, inter-married and shared the same culture as the local population, the refugees presented themselves as fundamentally different. In turn, these porous boundaries, which were presented as impenetrable, raised broader questions regarding contemporary imaginings of refugees. One participant stated that interacting with the local population would lead to a ‘spoiled’ or rotten refugee identity (Interview, Male Refugee, 30s, Nepal, 2012). This closely mirrored the exclusionary approach of the humanitarian community. The Bhutanese refugees actively tried to present themselves as morally righteous due to their knowledge of international norms and values. This was not a passing knowledge, but rather an effort to evidence their acceptance and internalization of the ‘right’ values. This reflected broader norms of camp governance. Parallel to efforts to teach refugees appropriate values was a strong push for the camps to be self-sufficient and self-reliant. The goal was to create a community that could self-regulate. Dean (2010: 19) has observed, notions of morality and ethics generally rest on an idea of self-government. They presume … some conception of an autonomous person capable of monitoring and regulating various aspects of his or her own conduct. Ethical values, rather than direct surveillance, became a means to maintain social order in Nepal. Part of this evidence was achieved by describing the local Nepalese as immoral. This immorality was explicitly linked to not having the ‘right’ international, humanitarian values even if those locals were employed by the UNHCR. The camp dynamic led most refugees to criticize marriages that occurred across local-refugee ‘borders’ (previously a rather mundane if not ideal configuration) as corrupt or self-serving. The venomous criticism of these arrangements was, however, largely abstract and carried a performative dimension. When participants spoke about specific families resulting from a mixed refugee–local marriage, it was with sympathy. Marriages between a refugee and a local were subject to intense scrutiny during the resettlement process. These couples and their children faced uncertainty in regard to resettlement. A refugee man in his early thirties explained his situation: I have this problem, this resettlement problem. You see, I have a mixed marriage with a local girl. We have been married ten years, we have a son but it is making our resettlement process take really long. We are getting worried we’ll be left behind. I have all these documents … I have gone many times but always they just send me away. I hate going there; they talk to me in a bad way. The local Nepalese, they hate us and they make the process for people with mixed marriages very difficult—I would say unnecessarily difficult (Interview, Male Refugee, 30s, Nepal, 2013). It was only through maintaining this image of difference that the Bhutanese understood they could continue to access the resources granted to humanitarian subjects. This had multiple outcomes. It reinforced and perhaps helped create differences between the refugee and local population. Perhaps most crucially, this emphasis maintained the legitimacy and centrality of national borders as the means of social organization. This highlights Barnett’s (2005) argument that humanitarian values support systems of global governance. Crucially, the focus on transforming refugees ‘does not challenge the state system but instead are designed to create a more stable, legitimate state organised around supposedly universal principles’ (Barnett 2005: 733). Perhaps inadvertently, the resettlement process has mirrored some of the problematic government policies that precipitated exile. The impact of the adoption of values that favoured nation-based marriage practices and monogamous marriages is best illustrated through two different polygamous families. The first was a young Nepali woman who married a Bhutanese refugee and the second a long-established polygamous family who married in Bhutan. Monogamy as Virtue While in the camps, a refugee man approached me, concerned that his neighbour did not have a hut allocation—generally a clear indication they did not have refugee status. I went to the hut and met a 19-year-old woman with an infant in her arms: her daughter. She began to explain her situation. She grew up in a remote village in the neighbouring district before entering an arranged marriage with the man who used to live in the hut and was the father of her child. He was decades older and an esteemed man in the refugee camps. For this young wife, her local status would have drawn out the resettlement process considerably. Her husband told her they would get a divorce to expedite the rest of the family’s resettlement process but that it would not be a ‘real’ divorce, only a legal necessity. He promised to send money to support her in the camp, where her daughter was registered but she was technically trespassing. The husband resettled with some of his family and months later, when I met with her, the money had still not arrived. Attempts by well-meaning neighbours to contact the husband through his extended family proved fruitless. The young wife had Nepali citizenship but returning to her natal home with a child and without a husband would be exceptionally stigmatizing. At a very basic level, she lacked the means to purchase a bus ticket home, though the neighbours had been considering pooling funds to purchase the 150 rupee ($2 Australian) ticket on her behalf. Here, the tension between competing value systems was acute. As a junior wife, she would have traditionally enjoyed the same (or similar) status as senior wives. A young woman explained the balance between multiple wives to me, ‘in the community, both are regarded as equals because they feel they should be equal’ (Interview, Female Refugee, 26, Nepal, 2013). This statement articulated what appeared to be the perception of most people in the camps—that multiple wives did not necessarily mean increased exploitation, degradation or a loss in social status for women when compared to a monogamous coupling. In this instance, the wayward husband was mirroring an internationally supported system of values in which monogamy was considered the morally correct form of marriage. Previously, such renouncing of a spouse had strong social repercussions. The husband would have been heavily stigmatized and forced to either maintain his wife financially or find a suitable new partner for her. Conforming to the standards of international organizations undermined those existing social responsibilities. Though abolishing the institution of polygamy was viewed as a way to help women, it ultimately further marginalized some of those it claimed to be helping. A refugee woman, who was the first wife in a polygamous family, explained her concerns: ‘I am worried to go first with the children and to leave the other family members in the camps, will they come quickly or not?’ In one family, an old women as separated from the other members and now says ‘I will die here and not meet my family’ (Interview, Female Refugee, 40s, Nepal 2012). This underscores that, for some families, going first is equally painful as waiting in the camps. Even those polygamous families that were all registered as Bhutanese refugees faced difficulties. One such family included a gregarious husband and two doting wives. The first wife was badly injured in a fall a few years after they married in Bhutan. At this point, the husband and wife had one child. It was very difficult for the wife to care for the household in her semi-handicapped state and she seemed unlikely to bear more children. Necessary everyday tasks, such as fetching water from their well, washing clothes by hand and cooking every meal due to a lack of refrigeration, were no longer possible. The husband attempted to help but agricultural activities absorbed much of his day. They decided a second wife was necessary to keep the household functioning. A suitable distant female relative was selected. The three adults, now with several children, lived together in Bhutan, fled the country together and shared a hut in the refugee camps. When I met them, the patriarch was in his seventies and his wives in their mid-sixties. Their communal children had resettled to the United States and there were new grandchildren. The parents hoped to join them. To do so, the husband had to divorce his second wife to whom he had been married for close to 50 years. The man explained his experiences: We wish we could go together. I requested at IOM not to leave any family here and to take the family together. I have been treated well there but I want to go with my other family members, I am sad with this separation for resettlement. Nowadays, after three years, some of the separated families are still here and have not been reunited. We’re very worried, that is a long time. I am not sure of the actual number but many people are separated like this, people are really worried they will die here and not meet their family in the new country (Interview, Male Refugee, 70s, Nepal, 2012). There was genuine (and well-founded) concern that families would be left behind or forced into a ‘temporary’ divorce that would turn into a perpetual reality. The only couples I met who divorced did so because of the restrictions on resettlement. What emerged in the camps was an ideal structure of marriage that mirrored the values of the governing bodies and the nations that accept refugees for resettlement. Participants maintained that polygamous families were still considered equal to monogamous couples but the practice appeared to have essentially stopped. There were few polygamous families under the age of 30, which reflected the broader ideal of monogamous marriage. Younger couples explained that it was too expensive and caused problems with resettlement. Before leaving the camps to resettle, many speculated that adopting models of family sanctioned by the international organizations would make life in new countries easier—crucially aware that, if their social norms were deemed morally unacceptable, it could legitimize their exclusion. Most participants worried about their reception in new countries, how they would be judged or what values (if any) would be selected as morally legitimate. These concerns were the extension of an experience that had been occurring for the last two decades in the camps as they learned what it meant to be a refugee from Bhutan in Nepal, living under the UNHCR. Administrative decisions transformed the institution of marriage in the camps. These transformations were done under the premise of protection (either protecting children, protecting women or ensuring scarce resources for ‘deserving’ refugees). In doing so, camps reproduced a hierarchy of inclusion and exclusion. The refugees found themselves in a tenuous position between the two statuses. In Nepal, a robust education in international values strove to mould the refugees into very specific humanitarian subjects with the ‘right’ value set. Though this was a political process (a form of governance), it was obscured by the language of protection, compassion and emancipation. Once they leave for resettlement, the hierarchy of inclusion and exclusion persists as they begin to interact with the Australian ideal of the family unit and expectations of refugees. Polygamy as Un-Australian In Australia, there were few instances of polygamy. Part of this was because polygamous families divorced during resettlement and were still waiting to be reunited. Young adults resettled in Australia informed me that polygamy was widely practised by their grandparents but few polygamous families wanted to discuss their experiences post resettlement. There was one elderly woman resettled in Australia who did speak openly about her polygamous marriage. I can only speculate as to why she was willing to speak on this matter when others were not, but I suspect it related to her status as a widow. Her husband died in Bhutan and she had cared for the families’ combined nine children. She could discuss her past experiences without worrying it would impact on her status in Australia. Though there may be more families than I was aware of, it is unlikely that they occurred much more frequently than the research could establish. While the Australian Government recognizes a polygamous union that occurred overseas, polygamy is technically illegal.1 Once resettled, polygamous families (if they can resettle in the same country) may initially live in different cities and then move to reunite. Due to occupancy laws in Australia, the large polygamous households rented adjoining apartments or homes in the same neighbourhood to be together. Regardless of these efforts to maintain their family structures, participants recognized that polygamy was considered an inappropriate family arrangement in Australia. The group was very concerned that public discussion regarding the practice of polygamy would undermine their status as deserving refugees. This was further reinforced when a man proposed marriage to a council worker with whom he had developed a strong attachment. The woman was aghast at the suggestion that she should become his subsidiary wife. She emphasized that such an option was not only illegal, but morally questionable (Interview, Female Service Provider, 30s, Adelaide, 2013). Thus, for participants, polygamy became a site of tension: though encouraged to practise their culture, some very intimate social institutions were deemed unacceptable. They were informed both directly and subtly that some cultural norms and values, such as polygamy, were necessary to abandon as means to help women—fulfilling egalitarian aspirations. Family is a central value in Australian culture (Dauvergne 1999), yet it is a very specifically defined institution: largely nuclear and between two consenting adults. This is the family structure that is imagined to be naturally in line with egalitarian ideals (Kingston 1975). Polygamy challenges this understanding, as reflected by the following sentiments that appeared widespread in Australia: ‘the problem with polygamy is primarily that it is a structurally in-egalitarian practice in both theory and fact’ (Brooks 2009: 109). This highlights that alternative family structures may be understood as a threat to accepted, foundational social institutions. Once resettled in Australia, the many Bhutanese expressed a hope they could ‘enjoy freedom in our homes’ (Interview, Male Refugee, 40s, Adelaide, 2012). They imagined Australia as a place where practising their social and cultural norms could occur unfettered. Service providers and local government representatives, however, quickly alerted them to the presence of ‘cultural problems’ that needed fixing. During resettlement, women were the targets of numerous emancipatory activities. Through the local council and service providers, the government facilitated public-speaking courses, educational opportunities and social clubs catering specifically to women. Women were frequently invited to represent the Bhutanese through dance, song or cooking at various social events. These spaces for participation in the broader Australian population reflected a feminization of the image of refugee observed more generally: women (and children) had become representative of the ideal refugee due to their perceived helplessness (Malkki 1996; Hyndman 2010; Hyndman and Giles 2011). Women were encouraged by service providers to speak at events, perform their culture and be the public face of the Bhutanese. Women were viewed as not only needing emancipation from males (Interview, Service Provider, 30s, Adelaide, 2013), but also appeared to be considered less threatening than males. Though women were encouraged to be the public face of the Bhutanese, this did not reduce the difficulty of resettlement that the women faced. Their English skills were low in comparison to those of the men and the social networks developed in the camps partially disintegrated due to resettlement. However, the feminization of the figure of refugee, though problematic, opened spaces for women. In turn, this opening of spaces, though marginal, emphasized the attributes of an idealized refugee: ‘an ethical ideal of a politically blameless self, untainted by compromising political allegiances or economic self-interest’ (Pupavac 2008: 276). The emphasis by service providers on making women the public face of the Bhutanese ‘acts as lessons on which aspects of refugees’ identities are to be recognised and which have to be suppressed as a precondition for acceptance’ (Szczepanikova 2009: 30). Women grasped these lessons, viewing the showcasing of their culture and vulnerable status as refugee women needing help as a means of justifying the support they received in Australia. They not only conformed to, but also attempted to exemplify, the role of ideal refugee. Liberating female refugees ultimately reconstructed them as a category in need of exceptional guidance. Bhutanese men, on the other hand, found themselves less than ideal refugees. They were viewed as a hindrance to women’s empowerment and a threat to a crippled local labour market. These understandings ‘facilitate and solidify processes of exclusion and marginalisation in different contexts of displacement’ (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 2010: 64). In Australia, ‘helping’ women effectively masked broader practices of social exclusion—in terms of both a strict migration policy and the degree of social integration refugees can hope to achieve. While abolishing polygamy was framed as a necessary transformation to equalize men and women, it was not a given that these changes would reduce the suffering of women. For the women left behind in Nepal when polygamous families had to decide whether to stay together in the camps or pursue a new life separately, these moral frameworks did not bring about emancipation. This highlighted the unintended consequences that occurred when ‘an ethics of care meets the will to control’ (Barnett 2013: 389). Though Australia strives to create an inclusive political space that values diversity, there are clearly defined parameters regarding acceptable cultural norms. Participants frequently relayed the expectation that citizenship would translate into a greater political voice compared to their experiences in Bhutan and in the camps. In January 2014, Australia filled its quota of Bhutanese refugees. For the Bhutanese in Australia, there were still family members in the camps. These included wives who were left behind when polygamous families had to divorce and the children who stayed with their mothers as well as family members (sons and daughters) who married a local Nepali. There was the possibility they could be reunited through a Family Reunification Visa that was available to all refugees in Australia. Bhutanese refugees viewed this visa as being allocated based on which groups of refugees were considered most deserving and best behaved. In attempting to sway the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the Bhutanese did not stage protests or demand their families were brought to Australia. Rather, they emphasized their good behaviour or the vulnerable status of family members while trying to minimize any ‘cultural problems’ that could tarnish their image. Participants of all ages frequently worried that poor behaviour could form a legitimate basis for complete exclusion from Australia—a possible return to exile in camps. One lady, who recently gained citizenship, explained: ‘for a long time I was very scared the local people would throw us out’ (Interview, Female Refugee, 20s, Adelaide, 2012). Another refugee, a young man, explained: ‘we are only recently born here, we’ve not grown up here yet so we cannot do silly things’ (Interview, Male Refugee, 60s, Adelaide, 2013). These concerns were not isolated to people who had arrived days, weeks or even months earlier. Some of them had arrived in Australia in 2008 and still others held Australian citizenship. The persistence of these concerns highlighted the refugees’ sense of precarious acceptance. The perceived risk of losing their position as deserving refugees functioned to regulate their everyday choices and experiences—several refugees worried that crossing the street outside the cross-walk could lead to profoundly negative repercussions. In this context, open discussion of polygamy was viewed as incredibly dangerous because it threatened to rebrand the Bhutanese: from good refugees to social deviants. Thus, focusing on emancipating women from polygamous marriages had the effect of further isolating refugees from the political process. In the current, highly moralistic discussion regarding the attributes and behaviours of refugees, the possibility of the Bhutanese demanding resettlement rights became even more remote. This underscores how these various forms of governance undertaken to emancipate or reform simultaneously attempt to stabilize and solidify forms of cultural difference. Though both humanitarian and egalitarian values aspire towards governance through solidarity, it is a selective solidarity. By creating a hierarchy of deservedness around ideal refugee attributes, Australia’s humanitarian actions functioned ‘as the mirror in which the nation seeks a reflection of its benevolence’ (Dauvergne 2005: 5). Jupp (2007: 182) argued further that accepting refugees served to foster Australia’s status in the global community through the performance of charity. It is this charitable framing of resettlement that fosters unequal power dynamics long after refugees arrived in Australia. Thus, the techniques for managing refugees at a domestic level have a clear relationship with the regulation of the nation state’s external boundaries. Conclusion Manifestations of governance informed by humanitarian ideals strive to liberate but, by necessity, also regulate. Refugee women are vulnerable for several reasons and cultural value systems are certainly one of them. Yet, there are also broader, structural issues that contributed to this vulnerability. Refugees find themselves moving within a framework that provides little freedom to directly critique the frameworks they moved within, become active participants in resettlement or pose broader questions regarding global arrangements and moral systems. Rewarding select behaviours while problematizing others functions to silence competing values. The examples from the camps and from Australia illustrate that humanitarian approaches to refugees foster uneven power relations because they are embedded within and a reflection of larger, unequal power relationships. In turn, this articulates the complexities of social relations between those with the power to make humanitarian gestures and those who are recipients. Though the Bhutanese are a specific group, their experiences are reflective of the mores, values and assumptions of our world. 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Geneva: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES (UNHCR) ( 2011) Resettlement Handbook . Geneva: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. PubMed PubMed  UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES (UNHCR) ( 2013) Global Appeal . Geneva: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. WALDINGER R., FITZGERALD D. ( 2004) ‘ Transnationalism in Question’. American Journal of Sociology  109( 5): 1177– 1195. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   THE WORLD BANK ( 2016) Refugee Fact Sheet . Washington, DC: The World Bank. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Refugee Studies Oxford University Press

A Moral Marriage: Humanitarian Values and the Bhutanese Refugees

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Abstract

Abstract Despite lofty aspirations, humanitarian ideals often buttress forms of governance where domination and assistance are explicitly linked. These humanitarian forms of governance frequently deploy moral sentiments to manage refugees. This relationship, between humanitarian governance and morality, is particularly clear in relation to polygamous refugees, refugees that marry across national boundaries and child marriages. During fieldwork with Bhutanese refugees, service providers—whose policies and actions reflected the view these marriage practices were morally corrupt and inherently oppressive to women—approached these practices as a ‘problem’. A willingness to transform such practices promised the Bhutanese refugees an opportunity to become part of an international community with all the attendant benefits (such as resettlement) this entailed. Through the experiences of the Bhutanese refugees, this article illustrates that humanitarian ideals actively govern refugees, while legitimizing broader processes of exclusion and inclusion. In turn, these values help maintain the legitimacy of a nation-based, global order. Introduction Though refugee camps have been critiqued as spaces that warehouse people (Smith 2004), they are increasingly a spot for potential community development and improvement—an oasis where international values can bloom. Exploitative gender relations are transformed, children are made aware of their rights and equality permeates the newly formed refugee communities. As Feldman (2014), Gabiam (2012) and Malkki (1995) observe, camps play a central role in creating, moulding and transforming the lives of refugees. This underscores the observations of Rose and Miller (1992: 175) that modern forms of government attempt to ‘administer the lives of others in the light of conceptions of what is good, healthy, normal, [and] virtuous’. This is not a quirk of multiple and diverse refugee camps, but illustrative of a broader system of humanitarian governance. International regimes of care actively contour what it means to be a refugee (Turner 2015: 6). Humanitarian spaces have moved beyond the bare roots of saving lives towards improving the human condition through moral transformation. Limited funds and the threat of compassion fatigue provide a strong incentive for refugees to conform to these improving efforts. Some of these efforts may herald transformations, but they frequently have unintended consequences. Barnett (2013) and Fassin (2012) both observe that, in a humanitarian framework, power is frequently exercised over those it hopes to emancipate. Thus, as humanitarian efforts strive to help liberate, they also regulate. Crucially, the focus is not to address either the initial events that led to exile or the global structures that maintain their exile. Rather, the focus tends to be on transforming refugees. This does not challenge the nation-state system and may, in fact, create a more stable, legitimate system (Barnett 2005: 733). Camps become a means not of generating equals, but of crafting amenable subjects. As Agamben (1998: 133) argues, humanitarian aspirations ‘maintain a secret solidarity with the very powers they ought to fight’. Funding camps or accepting people for resettlement is increasingly presented, by nations, as a generous gesture rather than the fulfilment of a legal obligation. This gives the impression that such gestures can be easily revoked—these are a form of ‘discretionary humanitarianism’ (Fassin 2008: 213). In this context, refugees must conform to the clear parameters of acceptable refugee behaviours. If we take the ability to enforce values or behaviours as a key determination of a state’s legitimacy (Fukuyama 2004; Farmer 2006), the way that polygamy—and marriage more broadly—is approached can yield insights into the wider implications of governance in humanitarian settings. When these regulations move across the family unit, they can negatively impact on the very people they are attempting to assist—women. The situations in refugee camps and wealthy resettlement countries appear to be drastically different—in many ways, they are. However, the deployment of moral sentiments both at an international and a domestic level is a defining aspect of our times (Bornstein and Redfield 2011). In Australia’s contemporary climate of strict borders and compassionate exceptionalism, the Bhutanese are deemed deserving of humanitarian admission because of their extended time in refugee camps. The experiences of the Bhutanese require a critical reflection ‘on who benefits from assertion of good, bad, and ideal refugees, and whose interests are advanced’ through these distinctions (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 2010: 64). The focus on helping the deserving refugees effectively moves the conversation away from broader social processes that leave refugees (male and female) vulnerable. This article explores the impact that displacement and resettlement have on polygamous families, refugees that have married across national boundaries and marriages of under-age people. It argues that the marriage practices were used as a ‘moral barometer’ to gauge peoples’ virtue as refugees and hence deserving of legal protection, material support or resettlement. The process of evaluating refugees often meant that international ideals went unquestioned as not only universal, but ‘right’, both in the camps and once resettled. This article contributes to the wider—and growing—efforts towards understanding the humanitarian turn in governance through a focused study of the Bhutanese refugees. It does so by following the people (Marcus 1995), first analysing the context that led to the generation of many Bhutanese refugees and their camp experience in Nepal. Then, it discusses their resettlement experiences in Australia. Across these sites, polygamy, cross-national marriages and child-marriage practices are used to examine the broader experience of life under humanitarian governance. It underscores that humanitarian values not only have a clear role in how refugees are governed, but also help to legitimize and normalize an exclusionary, nation-based global order. Governing Refugee States In the late 1980s, an ethnic minority group in Bhutan, the Lhoshampa or south Bhutanese felt the government was threatening their way of life. Systematic ethnic discrimination manifested itself in a series of human rights abuses punctuated by a controversial census that stripped them of their citizenship (Hutt 2003). These actions, by the government of Bhutan, necessitated protests and people began to demand political reforms. Clashes escalated violently until approximately 90,000 Bhutanese were forced to flee between 1989 and 1996 (Amnesty International 1992). After first seeking refuge unsuccessfully in India, the refugees pushed onward to Nepal where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) eventually established seven camps in 1992 (UNHCR 1993). Though the UNHCR worked closely with the Nepali Government and employed local staff, the Bhutanese I worked with understood the camps as a distinctly international space where the UNHCR held ultimate authority. The Bhutanese came under the stewardship of the UNHCR during a period of profound institutional change for the refugee agency. Globally, the number of refugees was growing and the durable solutions of repatriation, local integration or resettlement became increasingly difficult to secure (Loescher et al. 2008). Faced with few options, an earlier emphasis on legal protection no longer provided enough of a solution. Material assistance replaced earlier resettlement-centred approaches to refugees (Harrell-Bond 1986). These shifts moved the UNHCR to a more broadly based humanitarian agency, focused on saving lives and relieving suffering (Cutts 2000). Beyond replacing the legal protections refugees have lost, in protracted situations, the UNHCR (along with their implementing partners) build refugee camps into de facto states (Farmer 2006). Provision of basic physical security, distribution of material goods to protect the poor, funding and encouraging universal education while promoting international ideals such as democratic governance and gender equality are now commonplace. Thus, as they aspired to protect and care for refugees, the UNHCR also transmitted a knowledge system regarding cultural practices, norms and values. Given this scope of duties, the impact was much broader than keeping a precarious population fed. During protracted periods of displacement, camps became a space to manage populations by creating humanitarian subjects that both reflect and have internalized international values. In 2012, when fieldwork began, approximately 69,000 Bhutanese had been resettled, with roughly 1,000 people leaving each month for resettlement (UNHCR 2013: 210). Resettlement is an increasingly rare solution for refugees. The Bhutanese, as part of one of the UNHCR’s largest resettlement programmes to date (International Organisation for Migration 2015), represent a global elite of refugees. In Australia, they also represent the ‘humanitarian heart’ of an increasingly strict immigration policy that has drawn criticism from human rights organizations (the Australian Human Rights Commission, for example). Deserving refugees emerged as synonymous with protracted humanitarian situations—living in refugee camps and coming through a planned process (i.e. the UNHCR referral system). This has the effect of creating a dichotomy between refugees who arrive through formal avenues and those that access informal channels. In this context, accepting a select few refugees became a means to legitimize a highly regulated admission policy. These understandings had a flow on effect that followed refugees after they were resettled, underscoring the coercive efforts to build a nation-state society by excluding outsiders—via control of external borders—and to distinguish between members and unacceptable residents of the territory—through regulation of the internal boundaries (Waldinger and Fitzgerald 2004: 9). While Waldinger and Fitzgerald (2004) were concerned fundamentally with legal citizenship, the regulation of internal boundaries can be extended to discussions of social values more generally. Increasingly, accepting some refugees allowed Australia to reconcile a strict migration policy by equating helplessness, vulnerability and camps with ‘real’ refugees. This has an impact on the reception of refugees and the pathways available to them as they attempt to move beyond their status as refugees. Methodology Over 18 months, between 2012 and 2014, this research moved from South Australia to the refugee camps in eastern Nepal before circling back to South Australia. A multi-sited (Marcus 1995) ethnographic approach proved particularly fruitful for studying the experience of migrants (Leonard 2009) and refugees (Colson 2007). Though I lived outside the camps with a local Nepali family, I used public transportation with the refugees (who worked or shopped in the adjacent towns) for daily commuting to the camps. While my research assistant offered for me to stay with his family in the camps, I was concerned that this had the potential to expose his family to exploitation from local authorities. Participant observation formed the foundation of my ethnographic approach to working with the Bhutanese in both Nepal and Australia. This foundation was effectively supported and complemented by other types of data collection. These included, but were not limited to, snowball sampling, focus groups, as well as quantitative and qualitative surveys. Interviews supplemented observations and informal conversations. These were conducted with individuals, groups and families in a face-to-face setting. In Nepal, I conducted 98 pre-scheduled interviews that lasted approximately one to two hours. I elected only to count interviews that were pre-arranged, though unstructured interviews (conversations) informed much of my analysis. Regardless of the formally or informality of our interactions, participants were informed that I was performing research. I maintained an oral and written consent process, and took numerous steps to protect the identities of my participants. If a participant seemed uncomfortable, I did not pressure them to continue in the research. I frequently reminded participants that they had no obligation to speak with me and that I had no affiliation with any of the agencies working in the camps. In Australia, the overall number of participants was fewer (approximately 40) due to the smaller population of refugees (roughly 1,000 in Adelaide), though the longer period of fieldwork resulted in many more repeat interviews and a greater number of impromptu conversations. In Adelaide, I also interviewed service providers and volunteered for a local council as a Literacy Support Officer. Pulling together diverse, yet complementary, methodological tools, I hoped to increase the academic rigour of emerging interpretations. Ultimately, combining qualitative and quantitative tools helped to ensure the data was relatively representative of the broader group (Flick 2004; Denzin 2012). Heeding the advice of Bryman (1988), who argues that surveys should be developed in consultation with participants, I developed a survey after five months of fieldwork with my research assistant and 20 participants. I elected to survey 1 per cent of the largest camp, Beldangi II, which had a population of 15,000, and sought those 150 surveys to be demographically representative of the camp population. The sample group was based on age, gender and caste or ethnicity. Of course, there were limits to surveying only 1 per cent of the population and a larger sample size would have been ideal. However, this ensured that I was introduced to a representative cross-section of the camp and was a tool to access groups that more powerful refugees barred access. In Australia, one participant suggested that surveys be utilized but there was little support from the larger group so this mode of inquiry was abandoned. This research began with an interest in the way refugees thought of Bhutan. It quickly morphed to reflect the themes and ideas that participants raised. I sought to involve participants in the research process with open-ended questions that allowed them to raise issues that most concerned them. I also consulted with participants through the writing process. Making Marriage Moral I met one woman in the camps who practised polyandry but most polygamous couples comprised a husband with multiple wives. This article focuses on this form of polygamy. Some countries that generate large numbers of refugees (The World Bank 2016) also legally permit polygamous marriages (Tabet 2005: 26). Despite its potential prevalence, in the refugee study literature, polygamy is a subject only referred to in passing. For example, Piran (2004) observed that polygamy was a family arrangement among Afghan refugees living in Iran. Further, polygamy has also been identified as comprising more than half of marriages among refugees from Chad (Rasmussen and Annan 2010). Ghebrezghiabher and Motzafi-Haller (2015) also noted that polygamy was traditionally widespread in Eritrean society and that some refugee families resettling in Israel may be polygamous. These articles, however, do not explicitly analyse how or whether polygamy has changed during flight or once resettled. Muggah (2005), on the other hand, observed that polygamy rates for the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal appeared to be increasing in the camps and flagged this was an indication of generalized social decay. This understanding highlighted the perception reflected through internationally funded projects in the camps: polygamy was an ‘inescapable and barely tolerable institution’ (Okin 1999: 10). The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights mandates that ‘family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’ (Article 16). The family unit is not explicitly defined—suggesting polygamy may be an acceptable unit. However, the promotion of human rights and gender equality seems to be premised on monogamy as the cultural form of marriage that can bring about gender equality (Reanda 1981; Tertilt 2006). This is potentially problematic. As Shah (2003: 2) has argued in regard to polygamy in South Asia, despite the assumption that ‘an outright ban is the right or obvious course of action … this may in fact not be the right approach‘. While a ban is not enforced in refugee camps, specific values are promoted and, as refugees took part in the resettlement, those that do not mirror those values felt they could be excluded from the process. The UNHCR did not directly interfere with the family structure of refugees; there was not a blatant demand that the refugees stop polygamous marriages. However, there was a clear message that it was not an institution that was accepted by the countries that funded the camps. This message became explicit during the resettlement process; families that hoped to resettle generally submitted documentation that additional marriages had been legally dissolved due to the requirements of states that accept refugees (UNHCR 2011: 324). These requirements underscored that polygamy was not legally or morally acceptable in the eyes of the nations that funded the camps or allowed the Bhutanese to participate in resettlement. The UNHCR and International Organisation of Migration (IOM), through their liaisons with countries of resettlement, held specific concepts of marriage that refugees had to reflect to participate in resettlement. Marriages needed to conform to specific guidelines: be between adults over the age of 18 (as defined by UNICEF’s 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child), respect national/humanitarian boundaries (Bhutanese-Bhutanese with few exceptions) and be between two people. Consenting Adults The programmes in the refugee camps in Nepal included efforts towards the empowerment of women and the recognition of the rights of children through a universal education programme supplemented with various workshops, campaigns and training sessions. These were ambitious and laudable goals—seemingly beyond reproach. Yet these transformations frequently required radical social changes while relaying clear messages regarding which norms were acceptable. Limited and sporadic funding provided a strong incentive for refugees to conform to these improving efforts. Older participants maintained that, historically, marriage occurred at a very young age—around age seven for the bride and nine for the groom, though the bride did not enter her husband’s home until she began menstruating. These arrangements were undertaken to ensure the virginity of the bride, in line with patrilineal ideals of descent. A marriage partner was selected by the senior male in the family unit in consultation with a priest or priests. For the Bhutanese, caste was the central factor in the selection of a marriage partner: marriage observed and perpetuated caste lines. Ideally, the bride would be of the same caste but from a different village, ensuring castes remained ritually ‘pure’ without breaking incest taboos. After a suitable match was made, priests evaluated the respective astrology charts to check compatibility and select an auspicious marriage date. Now, due to the changing role of children and concepts of childhood, these child marriages technically no longer occur. Virtually every participant strongly disavowed child marriage as backwards or old-fashioned. Even those who were child brides or grooms themselves described it as ‘uneducated’ behaviour (Interview, Female Refugee, 60s, Nepal, 2013). Many explicitly quoted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and explained that children could not consent to such a union, when discussing their views. To respect the international norms and values taught in the camps, participants stated that arranged ‘promises’ rather than ‘marriages’ occurred. Despite these changes, a similar marriage pre-process occurred. Again, the priest performed a ritual but it was not the marriage ceremony. The degree to which this was binding was difficult to discern. Some of the marriages that took place when I was in the camp saw the couple betrothed from childhood. Most claimed the ritual was loosely binding, with space for negotiation once the children came of age or circumstances changed. The ideals of the Convention on the Rights of the Child thus changed, to various degrees, marriage practices among the Bhutanese in the camps. The convention was also cited and utilized in unexpected ways. The Bhutanese that I worked with also used this framework to critique the ‘love marriages’ of teenagers. A ‘love marriage’ occurred when two youths under the age of 18 eloped. Generally, these couples met at school. They achieved a legal marriage in the nearby city or consummated the union, creating a ‘marriage’ but without the support of their families. Neither of these approaches included a clear role for the senior members of the family, a religious ceremony or the community involvement of a socially acceptable marriage. If a ‘love marriage’ occurred along caste lines, it generally was not ideal but also not heavily criticized. I did not witness or hear rumours of these couples facing intense social pressure to separate. Further, it was still possible to have a religious ceremony performed and the broader community could accept the couple. If a love marriage between teenagers usurped caste divisions, the international framework of values would be called upon to denounce the legitimacy of the institution. Refugees believed that these couples, because they were under the age of 18, could be forced to divorce. ‘Marriage under 18 years is not allowed by the UNHCR, I think, and couples married at a younger age could not migrate together. They often divorce’ (Interview, Female Refugee, 20s, Nepal, 2012). Older participants claimed that the pressure for the two young lovers to separate was not because of transgressions against the caste system, but rather a lack of consent due to age. In this context, the Bhutanese interacted creatively with the values that changed some of their social norms to perpetuate others. There did not appear to be any polygamous marriages or ‘promises’ arranged during childhood. The polygamous couples I met were initially a monogamous couple that later had a subsequent wife or wives join the family, for various reasons. However, the emphasis on marriage being between two consenting adults provides insights into how polygamous couplings are understood. There seemed to be an implicit assumption embedded in the human rights framework that polygamous marriages lacked consent—despite being (as far I as observed) between people the UNHCR considered legal adults. Thus, while a woman may ‘claim the right to choose polygamous relationships … social or religious coercion may cast doubt upon whether they are choosing such relationships freely’ (Richards 2010: 200). My intent is not to argue this understanding is completely void. By understanding refugee women as fundamentally unable to make a consensual decision, however, the need to intervene into the practice of polygamous marriages was further normalized. Respecting National Boundaries National boundaries have not always been a central point in dictating the Bhutanese’s personal relationships—particularly marriage. For my participants, marriage ideally was based on caste hierarchies. The new bride must be of the same caste and ideally residing in a different village. In Bhutan, the different village was not necessarily inside national boundaries. Wives could either come from Nepal or be Indian nationals of Nepalese ancestry. Hutt (2003: 148) similarly found that it was common to marry across national boundaries and this was a factor that may have contributed to their expulsion from Bhutan. I was shown letters in the camps (2012–13) that participants maintained came from the Bhutanese Government and required the non-national married to a Bhutanese citizen to leave the country. The government of Bhutan appeared to view these marriage practices as undermining the legitimacy of the nation state as a distinct entity. In the camps, marriage practices across national boundaries were similarly deemed problematic, becoming a site of humanitarian intervention and evaluation. This was partially because resettlement promised admission to a wealthier world to which access is an increasingly scarce opportunity. Virtually every participant was keenly aware that refugees had access to a resource to which the locals were not entitled. In the camps, the divisions between undeserving local and deserving refugee emerged as a morally acceptable division partly because it underscored the legitimacy of national boundaries. Thus, though they spoke the same language, inter-married and shared the same culture as the local population, the refugees presented themselves as fundamentally different. In turn, these porous boundaries, which were presented as impenetrable, raised broader questions regarding contemporary imaginings of refugees. One participant stated that interacting with the local population would lead to a ‘spoiled’ or rotten refugee identity (Interview, Male Refugee, 30s, Nepal, 2012). This closely mirrored the exclusionary approach of the humanitarian community. The Bhutanese refugees actively tried to present themselves as morally righteous due to their knowledge of international norms and values. This was not a passing knowledge, but rather an effort to evidence their acceptance and internalization of the ‘right’ values. This reflected broader norms of camp governance. Parallel to efforts to teach refugees appropriate values was a strong push for the camps to be self-sufficient and self-reliant. The goal was to create a community that could self-regulate. Dean (2010: 19) has observed, notions of morality and ethics generally rest on an idea of self-government. They presume … some conception of an autonomous person capable of monitoring and regulating various aspects of his or her own conduct. Ethical values, rather than direct surveillance, became a means to maintain social order in Nepal. Part of this evidence was achieved by describing the local Nepalese as immoral. This immorality was explicitly linked to not having the ‘right’ international, humanitarian values even if those locals were employed by the UNHCR. The camp dynamic led most refugees to criticize marriages that occurred across local-refugee ‘borders’ (previously a rather mundane if not ideal configuration) as corrupt or self-serving. The venomous criticism of these arrangements was, however, largely abstract and carried a performative dimension. When participants spoke about specific families resulting from a mixed refugee–local marriage, it was with sympathy. Marriages between a refugee and a local were subject to intense scrutiny during the resettlement process. These couples and their children faced uncertainty in regard to resettlement. A refugee man in his early thirties explained his situation: I have this problem, this resettlement problem. You see, I have a mixed marriage with a local girl. We have been married ten years, we have a son but it is making our resettlement process take really long. We are getting worried we’ll be left behind. I have all these documents … I have gone many times but always they just send me away. I hate going there; they talk to me in a bad way. The local Nepalese, they hate us and they make the process for people with mixed marriages very difficult—I would say unnecessarily difficult (Interview, Male Refugee, 30s, Nepal, 2013). It was only through maintaining this image of difference that the Bhutanese understood they could continue to access the resources granted to humanitarian subjects. This had multiple outcomes. It reinforced and perhaps helped create differences between the refugee and local population. Perhaps most crucially, this emphasis maintained the legitimacy and centrality of national borders as the means of social organization. This highlights Barnett’s (2005) argument that humanitarian values support systems of global governance. Crucially, the focus on transforming refugees ‘does not challenge the state system but instead are designed to create a more stable, legitimate state organised around supposedly universal principles’ (Barnett 2005: 733). Perhaps inadvertently, the resettlement process has mirrored some of the problematic government policies that precipitated exile. The impact of the adoption of values that favoured nation-based marriage practices and monogamous marriages is best illustrated through two different polygamous families. The first was a young Nepali woman who married a Bhutanese refugee and the second a long-established polygamous family who married in Bhutan. Monogamy as Virtue While in the camps, a refugee man approached me, concerned that his neighbour did not have a hut allocation—generally a clear indication they did not have refugee status. I went to the hut and met a 19-year-old woman with an infant in her arms: her daughter. She began to explain her situation. She grew up in a remote village in the neighbouring district before entering an arranged marriage with the man who used to live in the hut and was the father of her child. He was decades older and an esteemed man in the refugee camps. For this young wife, her local status would have drawn out the resettlement process considerably. Her husband told her they would get a divorce to expedite the rest of the family’s resettlement process but that it would not be a ‘real’ divorce, only a legal necessity. He promised to send money to support her in the camp, where her daughter was registered but she was technically trespassing. The husband resettled with some of his family and months later, when I met with her, the money had still not arrived. Attempts by well-meaning neighbours to contact the husband through his extended family proved fruitless. The young wife had Nepali citizenship but returning to her natal home with a child and without a husband would be exceptionally stigmatizing. At a very basic level, she lacked the means to purchase a bus ticket home, though the neighbours had been considering pooling funds to purchase the 150 rupee ($2 Australian) ticket on her behalf. Here, the tension between competing value systems was acute. As a junior wife, she would have traditionally enjoyed the same (or similar) status as senior wives. A young woman explained the balance between multiple wives to me, ‘in the community, both are regarded as equals because they feel they should be equal’ (Interview, Female Refugee, 26, Nepal, 2013). This statement articulated what appeared to be the perception of most people in the camps—that multiple wives did not necessarily mean increased exploitation, degradation or a loss in social status for women when compared to a monogamous coupling. In this instance, the wayward husband was mirroring an internationally supported system of values in which monogamy was considered the morally correct form of marriage. Previously, such renouncing of a spouse had strong social repercussions. The husband would have been heavily stigmatized and forced to either maintain his wife financially or find a suitable new partner for her. Conforming to the standards of international organizations undermined those existing social responsibilities. Though abolishing the institution of polygamy was viewed as a way to help women, it ultimately further marginalized some of those it claimed to be helping. A refugee woman, who was the first wife in a polygamous family, explained her concerns: ‘I am worried to go first with the children and to leave the other family members in the camps, will they come quickly or not?’ In one family, an old women as separated from the other members and now says ‘I will die here and not meet my family’ (Interview, Female Refugee, 40s, Nepal 2012). This underscores that, for some families, going first is equally painful as waiting in the camps. Even those polygamous families that were all registered as Bhutanese refugees faced difficulties. One such family included a gregarious husband and two doting wives. The first wife was badly injured in a fall a few years after they married in Bhutan. At this point, the husband and wife had one child. It was very difficult for the wife to care for the household in her semi-handicapped state and she seemed unlikely to bear more children. Necessary everyday tasks, such as fetching water from their well, washing clothes by hand and cooking every meal due to a lack of refrigeration, were no longer possible. The husband attempted to help but agricultural activities absorbed much of his day. They decided a second wife was necessary to keep the household functioning. A suitable distant female relative was selected. The three adults, now with several children, lived together in Bhutan, fled the country together and shared a hut in the refugee camps. When I met them, the patriarch was in his seventies and his wives in their mid-sixties. Their communal children had resettled to the United States and there were new grandchildren. The parents hoped to join them. To do so, the husband had to divorce his second wife to whom he had been married for close to 50 years. The man explained his experiences: We wish we could go together. I requested at IOM not to leave any family here and to take the family together. I have been treated well there but I want to go with my other family members, I am sad with this separation for resettlement. Nowadays, after three years, some of the separated families are still here and have not been reunited. We’re very worried, that is a long time. I am not sure of the actual number but many people are separated like this, people are really worried they will die here and not meet their family in the new country (Interview, Male Refugee, 70s, Nepal, 2012). There was genuine (and well-founded) concern that families would be left behind or forced into a ‘temporary’ divorce that would turn into a perpetual reality. The only couples I met who divorced did so because of the restrictions on resettlement. What emerged in the camps was an ideal structure of marriage that mirrored the values of the governing bodies and the nations that accept refugees for resettlement. Participants maintained that polygamous families were still considered equal to monogamous couples but the practice appeared to have essentially stopped. There were few polygamous families under the age of 30, which reflected the broader ideal of monogamous marriage. Younger couples explained that it was too expensive and caused problems with resettlement. Before leaving the camps to resettle, many speculated that adopting models of family sanctioned by the international organizations would make life in new countries easier—crucially aware that, if their social norms were deemed morally unacceptable, it could legitimize their exclusion. Most participants worried about their reception in new countries, how they would be judged or what values (if any) would be selected as morally legitimate. These concerns were the extension of an experience that had been occurring for the last two decades in the camps as they learned what it meant to be a refugee from Bhutan in Nepal, living under the UNHCR. Administrative decisions transformed the institution of marriage in the camps. These transformations were done under the premise of protection (either protecting children, protecting women or ensuring scarce resources for ‘deserving’ refugees). In doing so, camps reproduced a hierarchy of inclusion and exclusion. The refugees found themselves in a tenuous position between the two statuses. In Nepal, a robust education in international values strove to mould the refugees into very specific humanitarian subjects with the ‘right’ value set. Though this was a political process (a form of governance), it was obscured by the language of protection, compassion and emancipation. Once they leave for resettlement, the hierarchy of inclusion and exclusion persists as they begin to interact with the Australian ideal of the family unit and expectations of refugees. Polygamy as Un-Australian In Australia, there were few instances of polygamy. Part of this was because polygamous families divorced during resettlement and were still waiting to be reunited. Young adults resettled in Australia informed me that polygamy was widely practised by their grandparents but few polygamous families wanted to discuss their experiences post resettlement. There was one elderly woman resettled in Australia who did speak openly about her polygamous marriage. I can only speculate as to why she was willing to speak on this matter when others were not, but I suspect it related to her status as a widow. Her husband died in Bhutan and she had cared for the families’ combined nine children. She could discuss her past experiences without worrying it would impact on her status in Australia. Though there may be more families than I was aware of, it is unlikely that they occurred much more frequently than the research could establish. While the Australian Government recognizes a polygamous union that occurred overseas, polygamy is technically illegal.1 Once resettled, polygamous families (if they can resettle in the same country) may initially live in different cities and then move to reunite. Due to occupancy laws in Australia, the large polygamous households rented adjoining apartments or homes in the same neighbourhood to be together. Regardless of these efforts to maintain their family structures, participants recognized that polygamy was considered an inappropriate family arrangement in Australia. The group was very concerned that public discussion regarding the practice of polygamy would undermine their status as deserving refugees. This was further reinforced when a man proposed marriage to a council worker with whom he had developed a strong attachment. The woman was aghast at the suggestion that she should become his subsidiary wife. She emphasized that such an option was not only illegal, but morally questionable (Interview, Female Service Provider, 30s, Adelaide, 2013). Thus, for participants, polygamy became a site of tension: though encouraged to practise their culture, some very intimate social institutions were deemed unacceptable. They were informed both directly and subtly that some cultural norms and values, such as polygamy, were necessary to abandon as means to help women—fulfilling egalitarian aspirations. Family is a central value in Australian culture (Dauvergne 1999), yet it is a very specifically defined institution: largely nuclear and between two consenting adults. This is the family structure that is imagined to be naturally in line with egalitarian ideals (Kingston 1975). Polygamy challenges this understanding, as reflected by the following sentiments that appeared widespread in Australia: ‘the problem with polygamy is primarily that it is a structurally in-egalitarian practice in both theory and fact’ (Brooks 2009: 109). This highlights that alternative family structures may be understood as a threat to accepted, foundational social institutions. Once resettled in Australia, the many Bhutanese expressed a hope they could ‘enjoy freedom in our homes’ (Interview, Male Refugee, 40s, Adelaide, 2012). They imagined Australia as a place where practising their social and cultural norms could occur unfettered. Service providers and local government representatives, however, quickly alerted them to the presence of ‘cultural problems’ that needed fixing. During resettlement, women were the targets of numerous emancipatory activities. Through the local council and service providers, the government facilitated public-speaking courses, educational opportunities and social clubs catering specifically to women. Women were frequently invited to represent the Bhutanese through dance, song or cooking at various social events. These spaces for participation in the broader Australian population reflected a feminization of the image of refugee observed more generally: women (and children) had become representative of the ideal refugee due to their perceived helplessness (Malkki 1996; Hyndman 2010; Hyndman and Giles 2011). Women were encouraged by service providers to speak at events, perform their culture and be the public face of the Bhutanese. Women were viewed as not only needing emancipation from males (Interview, Service Provider, 30s, Adelaide, 2013), but also appeared to be considered less threatening than males. Though women were encouraged to be the public face of the Bhutanese, this did not reduce the difficulty of resettlement that the women faced. Their English skills were low in comparison to those of the men and the social networks developed in the camps partially disintegrated due to resettlement. However, the feminization of the figure of refugee, though problematic, opened spaces for women. In turn, this opening of spaces, though marginal, emphasized the attributes of an idealized refugee: ‘an ethical ideal of a politically blameless self, untainted by compromising political allegiances or economic self-interest’ (Pupavac 2008: 276). The emphasis by service providers on making women the public face of the Bhutanese ‘acts as lessons on which aspects of refugees’ identities are to be recognised and which have to be suppressed as a precondition for acceptance’ (Szczepanikova 2009: 30). Women grasped these lessons, viewing the showcasing of their culture and vulnerable status as refugee women needing help as a means of justifying the support they received in Australia. They not only conformed to, but also attempted to exemplify, the role of ideal refugee. Liberating female refugees ultimately reconstructed them as a category in need of exceptional guidance. Bhutanese men, on the other hand, found themselves less than ideal refugees. They were viewed as a hindrance to women’s empowerment and a threat to a crippled local labour market. These understandings ‘facilitate and solidify processes of exclusion and marginalisation in different contexts of displacement’ (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 2010: 64). In Australia, ‘helping’ women effectively masked broader practices of social exclusion—in terms of both a strict migration policy and the degree of social integration refugees can hope to achieve. While abolishing polygamy was framed as a necessary transformation to equalize men and women, it was not a given that these changes would reduce the suffering of women. For the women left behind in Nepal when polygamous families had to decide whether to stay together in the camps or pursue a new life separately, these moral frameworks did not bring about emancipation. This highlighted the unintended consequences that occurred when ‘an ethics of care meets the will to control’ (Barnett 2013: 389). Though Australia strives to create an inclusive political space that values diversity, there are clearly defined parameters regarding acceptable cultural norms. Participants frequently relayed the expectation that citizenship would translate into a greater political voice compared to their experiences in Bhutan and in the camps. In January 2014, Australia filled its quota of Bhutanese refugees. For the Bhutanese in Australia, there were still family members in the camps. These included wives who were left behind when polygamous families had to divorce and the children who stayed with their mothers as well as family members (sons and daughters) who married a local Nepali. There was the possibility they could be reunited through a Family Reunification Visa that was available to all refugees in Australia. Bhutanese refugees viewed this visa as being allocated based on which groups of refugees were considered most deserving and best behaved. In attempting to sway the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the Bhutanese did not stage protests or demand their families were brought to Australia. Rather, they emphasized their good behaviour or the vulnerable status of family members while trying to minimize any ‘cultural problems’ that could tarnish their image. Participants of all ages frequently worried that poor behaviour could form a legitimate basis for complete exclusion from Australia—a possible return to exile in camps. One lady, who recently gained citizenship, explained: ‘for a long time I was very scared the local people would throw us out’ (Interview, Female Refugee, 20s, Adelaide, 2012). Another refugee, a young man, explained: ‘we are only recently born here, we’ve not grown up here yet so we cannot do silly things’ (Interview, Male Refugee, 60s, Adelaide, 2013). These concerns were not isolated to people who had arrived days, weeks or even months earlier. Some of them had arrived in Australia in 2008 and still others held Australian citizenship. The persistence of these concerns highlighted the refugees’ sense of precarious acceptance. The perceived risk of losing their position as deserving refugees functioned to regulate their everyday choices and experiences—several refugees worried that crossing the street outside the cross-walk could lead to profoundly negative repercussions. In this context, open discussion of polygamy was viewed as incredibly dangerous because it threatened to rebrand the Bhutanese: from good refugees to social deviants. Thus, focusing on emancipating women from polygamous marriages had the effect of further isolating refugees from the political process. In the current, highly moralistic discussion regarding the attributes and behaviours of refugees, the possibility of the Bhutanese demanding resettlement rights became even more remote. This underscores how these various forms of governance undertaken to emancipate or reform simultaneously attempt to stabilize and solidify forms of cultural difference. Though both humanitarian and egalitarian values aspire towards governance through solidarity, it is a selective solidarity. By creating a hierarchy of deservedness around ideal refugee attributes, Australia’s humanitarian actions functioned ‘as the mirror in which the nation seeks a reflection of its benevolence’ (Dauvergne 2005: 5). Jupp (2007: 182) argued further that accepting refugees served to foster Australia’s status in the global community through the performance of charity. It is this charitable framing of resettlement that fosters unequal power dynamics long after refugees arrived in Australia. Thus, the techniques for managing refugees at a domestic level have a clear relationship with the regulation of the nation state’s external boundaries. Conclusion Manifestations of governance informed by humanitarian ideals strive to liberate but, by necessity, also regulate. Refugee women are vulnerable for several reasons and cultural value systems are certainly one of them. Yet, there are also broader, structural issues that contributed to this vulnerability. Refugees find themselves moving within a framework that provides little freedom to directly critique the frameworks they moved within, become active participants in resettlement or pose broader questions regarding global arrangements and moral systems. Rewarding select behaviours while problematizing others functions to silence competing values. The examples from the camps and from Australia illustrate that humanitarian approaches to refugees foster uneven power relations because they are embedded within and a reflection of larger, unequal power relationships. In turn, this articulates the complexities of social relations between those with the power to make humanitarian gestures and those who are recipients. Though the Bhutanese are a specific group, their experiences are reflective of the mores, values and assumptions of our world. This article illustrates how humanitarian ideals actively contour refugee identity to maintain the global order. Refugees must reinvent themselves to strategically adapt to the expectations of the governing institutions, both humanitarian and national. It underscores that, in acting as humanitarian subjects, refugees must abandon their role as contributors to the nation state and become satisfied with the position of guests. As suppliants in global reconstitutions, refugees articulate both the grand aspirations and the desperate shortcomings of a new, humanitarian system of global relationships. Acknowledgements This text was written between 2014 and 2016. Field research was funded by the Australian National University. I would like to thank the peer reviewers for their thoughtful and constructive feedback. Thank you to Dr Patrick Guinness, Dr William Bosworth, Dr Ray Nickson, and Dr Michael Savvas for feedback on earlier versions of this article. References AGAMBEN G. 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Journal of Refugee StudiesOxford University Press

Published: Mar 1, 2018

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