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Field Notes

Vol. 10 No. 1: April issue

​​Deserving Asylum​ and Becoming ‘Good’ Refugees in Madrid

February 15, 2022


Subject to constant and pervasive suspicion, asylum seekers in the global north often must expend great energy to assert their moral agency and be perceived as ‘good’ refugees who are not only worthy of being granted asylum but also capable of becoming ‘good’ citizens in the future. Navigating these difficult waters requires a keen awareness of what makes an individual ‘deserving’ of asylum in the local context as well as a distinct ability to balance different modes of presentation as required. Specifically, asylum seekers must be vulnerable enough to meet the requirements of refugee status, and yet also capable enough not to be perceived as a burden on society. In this Field Notes piece, I examine these negotiations within an international NGO that operates an official refugee and asylum seeker reception site in Madrid, Spain. Drawing upon ethnographic research conducted at this site, I argue that asylum seekers assert moral agency by demonstrating that they are ‘deserving’ of asylum within the local moral economy of deservingness.