The Afghan Experience of Asylum in Germany
Towards an Anthropology of Legal Categories
Providing protection for the persecuted is a foundational value of Western European liberal democracies, but political asylum poses an ethical quandary today to nation-states. On the one hand, refugee protection remains an uncontested moral duty, on the other hand, nationalist logics of state sovereignty and exclusion are increasingly brought to bear on asylum seekers in Europe, as right-wing populist formations construct asylum as a loophole for immigration. Taking as a starting point Afghan refugees’ experiences of exile in Germany over the last two decades, this paper examines how Afghans experience the laws and policies that classify and manage foreign migrants and asylum seekers. Granted only temporary protection, numerous Afghans find themselves in a legal limbo that precludes future perspectives. Based on ethnographic research in Hamburg (Germany), this paper throws light on the lived consequences of this situation of perpetual suspension and explores the performative work of German legal categories as they constitute the (il)legitimacy of asylum seekers and the lawfulness of the state.