Working Paper

Citizenship and Displacement

Published on 11 January 2011

Crucial for displaced people is citizenship (or the lack of it). In conventional terms, citizenship is seen as political membership in a given nation-state through which citizens possess civil, political, economic and social rights. Most states, however, have groups within them who do not belong and are denied citizenship rights, even though they may have formal citizenship. In particular, displaced people (both within and crossing borders) are denied formal citizenship and rights but are claiming them, subjectively seeing their de facto experience as lived citizenship. Protest, claim assertion and transnational alliances are manifest ways of struggling for those rights. Much of the existing literature tends to focus top-down understandings of displaced people as citizens/non-citizens and the formal processes available (or not available) to them, ignoring the importance of informal processes as well as local agency and practice.

This paper explores the informal processes and feelings of belonging through case study examples, linking them to changing dynamics in different displacement regimes (e.g. refugee, IDP – internally displaced people – and DID – (development-induced displacement). We look at impacts of globalisation and changing international and national legal structures to bottom-up and lived notions of citizenship.

The paper also examines displacement in light of differing theoretical meanings of citizenship, asking to what extent the forced migrant is a global or transnational citizen.


Lyla Mehta

Professorial Fellow

Publication details

published by
Mehta, L. and Napier-Moore, R.
IDS Working Paper, issue 354
978 1 85864 961 7


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