Written by Lewis Turner

Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 October 2019

In the recent years, the ‘refugee entrepreneur’ has emerged as a prominent figure in humanitarian, media and academic portrayals of refugees – stressing their ‘self-reliance’, ‘agency’ and ‘economic capacities’ rather than a ‘burden’ or a ‘threat’ to the host country. However, these market-oriented solutions to the so-called ‘refugees crisis’ promote neoliberal standards to the humanitarian idealisation of ‘refugeehood’. This article questions what is left of the refugees who cannot live up to the entrepreneurial ideal?

Furthermore, by making an analysis of the Za’tari camp in Jordan, the author investigates the racism at play in the perception and promotion of entrepreneurship among refugees: in the humanitarian representation of refugee entrepreneurs in the camp, Syrians are in a favoured position over African refugees. He argues that the rationale of this representation is “to market them [Syrians] as embodying a subject position associated with whiteness, as well as masculinity, class privilege, and bodily ability, in order to promote Syrian refugees to intended Western audiences and donors.”

In fact, this article also argues that the ‘positive’ narrative on pro-active Syrian refugee entrepreneurs, also serves the purpose of positioning refugees of different origins into a racial hierarchy that strengthens white supremacy and anti-black racism.

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