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LCS-SP201 The Politics and Economics of Refugees in Africa

Dr Theresa Alfaro-Velcamp, Research Associate at the Centre for Social Science Research, University of Cape Town

Course outline

According to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” This definition, however, does not include those fleeing because of economic and political instability.

This course will examine the push and pull factors for migrants and refugees in Africa. Topics, such as the economic costs for governments to absorb refugees, how local populations respond to the influx of migrants, and how migrants are perceived as economic actors will be analyzed. Questions of where different refugees settle in Africa, and how they are received will be explored. The issue of xenophobia will be examined in the context of economic racism and how difficult economic circumstances for locals can create conditions for anti-foreign sentiments. The course will also cover nativism, disease, immigration laws, and current media coverage with particular attention to South Africa. A tentative trip to the Cape Town Refugee Centre in Wynberg, Cape Town will be arranged.

Full course outline

About the instructor


Dr Alfaro-Velcamp is Research Associate at the Centre for Social Science Research at the University of Cape Town, South Africa and Professor of History at Sonoma State University in California, USA, where she runs the Latin American Studies Minor Program.

She holds a PhD in History and an MA in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University, an MSc in Comparative Politics from LSE and a BA from California Polytechnic State University. She has previously worked as an International Trade Consultant for Motorola and in Government Affairs for Texas Instruments and National Semiconductor.

Building on her book So Far from Allah, So Close to Mexico: Middle Eastern immigrants in Modern Mexico (2007) and recent comparative study of migration and citizenship in Mexico and the United States, Dr. Alfaro-Velcamp has begun new research on refugees and marginalized populations, such as those displaced by war and famine, in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. She is interested in the intersection between disease and displaced populations, and how public health issues get mapped onto immigrants and refugees.