This research study explores how ten Eritrean refugees living in Pretoria, South Africa, make sense of their refugee identity in individual interviews. Discursive analysis was employed as a methodology to capture the different ways of talking (interpretative repertoires) about their institutionally-ascribed refugee identity, their experiences as refugees and alternative identities which the refugees discursively constructed in their interaction with the researcher. The study was motivated to provide the refugees, as a marginalized social group, a platform for expressing their agency. Six men and four women were recruited for the study using a convenience sampling technique. Analysis resulted in the identification of five dominant and two less dominant interpretative repertoires. The dominant interpretative repertoires were as follows: ‘we have rights’ repertoire; ‘accept who you are’ repertoire; ‘they target you’ repertoire; ‘I am secure: they can’t deport me’ repertoire and ‘we are misunderstood as criminals’ repertoire. The two less dominant repertoires were: ‘our refugee identity is transient’ repertoire and ‘I am lost; I don’t have a country any more’ repertoire. The findings of such varied, contradictory and inconsistent ways of talking by the participants about their refugee identity demonstrate a challenge to previous empirical studies conducted on the experiences and identities of Eritrean refugees in different settings which treated participant accounts as consistent and coherent. Furthermore, the results of the study defy dominant discourses about refugees which describe them as voiceless and without agency.
Dissertation (MSocSci)--University of Pretoria, 2014.