The management of migration and displacement, including humanitarian response, is shaped by geopolitics and relies on the construction of two key spatialities of exclusion, containment, and securitization: externalizing asylum and refuge so that those on the move are kept in ‘regions of origin’ away from the ‘global North’; and encampment within those regions. Both are tied to a state-centric orientation that refugees return to their countries of origin, as a preferred ‘durable solution.’ Yet refugees negotiate their own safety both within and beyond the humanitarian governance system, through extensive and often transnational networks. The authors explore the idea of transnational displacement as an alternate theoretical framing that is empirically rooted in more circulatory geographies. Observable pathways to safety are grounded in a case study of Burundian refugees and returnees. Ultimately, ‘grand theories of humanitarian government’ cannot fully capture the ruptures and sutures of displacement, return, and return again that may occur in the lives of families caught between violence, starvation, and family separation.
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