Between Fear and Vulnerability: The Emergence of the Humanitarian-Security Nexus in the Canadian Refugee Protection Regime

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Diab, Soha




This thesis examines the humanitarian-security nexus in the Canadian refugee protection regime through a biopolitical and genealogical framework. Addressing the post-WWII period, it analyses the specific ways in which this nexus has been assembled in response to the Ugandan-Asian and Chilean refugee crises. Although diverse studies have focused on either security or humanitarian practices, there has been scant inquiry into the intersecting nature of these practices. Drawing from Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben's theoretical understandings of biopolitics as an assemblage of technologies of 
power, this dissertation argues that governing authorities' biopolitical power alternates among making live, letting die, and making survive. 

In the aftermath of WWII, the humanitarian-security nexus primarily aimed to eliminate immigrants who were deemed racially, politically, and physically unfit to contribute to Canada's economic well-being, White-European heritage, and Western-liberal democratic values. As a result, the humanitarian response to the Ugandan-Asian refugee crisis involved a carefully orchestrated selection process that welcomed refugees who were deemed strong potential economic contributors. Meanwhile, the Chilean refugees, who were perceived to be a poor fit with Canada's Western-liberal democratic value system and economic interests, were excluded and denied the humanitarian welcome that was extended to Ugandan-Asian refugees. 

In the wake of the implementation of the Immigration Act in 1976, refugees were no longer considered politically or economically valuable to Canada; instead, they were regarded as “problems” that require management and control. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, governing authorities were revising their technologies of power in order to address the increasing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Canada who were considered a threat. 

When these technologies have proven insufficient in addressing ‘the refugee problem', the Canadian governing authorities have sought the power to make survive. This power strives to depoliticize life by appealing to fear and vulnerability. Refugees in the re-emerging humanitarian-security nexus are treated either as dangerous and illegitimate, or as vulnerable individuals in need of care and compassion. Through its critical analysis of this nexus, this study offers a new insight into the Canadian refugee protection system and the political foundation of its governing system. 


Public Administration
Political Science




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

Doctor of Philosophy: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Public Policy

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Theses and Dissertations

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