Reassembling the surveillable refugee body in the era of data-craving

Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, Eman Hassen Mohamed Haioty

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This article traces the travel of biometric data of Syrian refugees in Jordan through a hastily evolving political economy characterized by a pervasive craving for the extraction, storage and brokering of displacement data. It analyzes iris-enrollment as problematic acts of quasi-citizenship for the displaced requiring the performance of social and economic docility in order to attain identity, cash and service provision. Quasi-objects in the form of digital footprints are fashioned through infrastructures that simultaneously seek to model, yet fail to capture, socioeconomic existence in displacement contexts. Discourses of anti-fraud, donor dictates, upward accountability and strategies of financial inclusion of ‘the unbanked’, facilitate the marketization of the creation of data-doubles in laboratories of displacement and loopholes for externalization. Driven by increasingly blurred lines between technological, humanitarian and financial interests, this development has transformative effects on both those displaced, and on a humanitarian sector tasked with safeguarding their rights.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCitizenship Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Martin Lemberg-Pedersen is assistant professor in Global Refugee Studies at the Department of Politics and Society, Aalborg University. His research interests involve interdisciplinary analyses of European and Western displacement governance, including asylum politics, border control, deportation and military-indudstrial relations in postcolonial displacement politics. He has researched EU relations to Greek, Turkish and Libyan migration politics as well as precedents to current Western displacement politics during the transatlantic slave trade. His publications have appeared in Global Affairs, Questions of International Law, Politik, Energy Policy and the Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics.

Eman Haioty is an independent researcher. She studied at the IT University of Copenhagen and graduated with a Masters of Science in Digitial Innovation and Management. Her graduate thesis concerned the application of biometric technologies in refugee management and the transforma- tion of the refugee body into a surveillable body. Presently, she explores the interconnection between science and technology studies, information security and intersectionality.


  • Biometrics
  • humanitarianism
  • unbanked
  • displacement data
  • surveillance capitalism
  • Accenture
  • World Bank Group


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  • The Marketization of Displacement

    Lemberg-Pedersen, M.


    Project: Research

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