About ‘Decolonising Asylum’

Once forcibly displaced from their homes and places of familiarity, a perilous journey awaits migrants, where thousands meet death as their fate, year after year. Since 2014, the IOM’s Missing Migrants project has documented the deaths of 59,630 migrants. Among these missing migrants, the remains of 25,234 people were not recovered. Some bodies may have found the shallow seafloor's grounds in treacherous waters, while others drift on, in pieces or as sustenance to fish. Others may have perished in lifeless deserts, impoverished refugee camps, violent borders, or war zones. In these carceral spaces, thousands of forcibly displaced people endure unimaginable brutality on both sides of the Mediterranean, in Myanmar, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia, Sudan, the US-Mexico border, Palestine, and various other locations. These precarious realities are haunting reminder of the price forced migrants pay in the depths of this endless, merciless, restless journeys.

The realities faced by forcibly displaced people epitomise a necropolitical (de)existence, encompassing circumstances where they are born and perish without rights, the annihilation of life with complete impunity, forced disappearances in carceral spaces, instances of rape and torture, and mass drownings in treacherous waters. Their bodies (de)exist in carceral temporalities, in spaces outside human spaces, grappling with the necropolitical forces of annihilation. They remain entrenched in visceral pain, shattered into pieces, profoundly haunting – a mass of wounded and disposable bodies. Their collective wound is deeper than the ocean, an ‘abyss’, as Édouard Glissant would call it. They are expected to hope for the better in relatively safer destinations, but hope is merely an indefinite deferment of their gaping wound. For them, hope becomes a form of temporal violence.

The cries of these suffering bodies, including the unattended cries of children, the pleas from deep prison cells hidden beneath the surface, and the apocalyptic scenes of drowning in the sea might have been the only means of expression for these forcibly displaced people. Their visceral expressions signify an ‘open wound’ – a profound injury to human dignity. The essence of their visceral expressions defies communicability. That which resists communicability necessitates profound questioning and contemplation to understand the reality of their lived experiences, fostering the possibility for a decolonial existence. Decolonising Asylum raises several profound questions:

  • What compels people to flee their homes and endanger their lives in perilous journeys?
  • What kind of status do they possess if their dignity can be stripped away?
  • What existence is afforded to the displaced people? What does it mean to (de)exist?
  • How can we envision life and existence beyond violent (b)orders and laws?

Decolonising Asylum envisions an abyssal journey from ‘open wounds’ to ‘scar’ by intertwining decolonial praxes that ‘coloniality’ has either made unknowable, disposable, or (de)existent. Its goal is to reconstitute the subjectivities, bodies, and beings that coloniality (of power, knowledge and being) deems as ‘no-bodies’ and ‘non-beings’ so that they can become decolonial bodies and beings. However, beneath the surface of the 'scar', the wound remains fragile, as lived memories cannot be erased, nor can existential wounds be entirely healed. Decolonising Asylum highlights the onto-epistemic significance of cry, poetry, prayers, music, love, and rage to envision the 'healing' of these wounds.

The “Journey”

Through empirical, theoretical and philosophical analyses, Decolonising Asylum will offer insights into ways to critically conceive of a theory of transition that can bring about a shift from violability, coloniality, and destitution towards healing, restoration, and decoloniality. The study employs an investigative, relational, and non-exclusive methodological approach known as "Journey", integrating philosophical concepts into a methodological framework for decolonial inquiry. Journey, in Glissant's terms, signifies an 'abyss', 'a poetic' and an irreducible relation of movement from open wound to scar. While the open wound is conceptualised as a profound injury to human dignity, the scar is a permanent marker of a healed wound and a tainted past. The scar signifies the beginning of the end for the colonial matrices of power that initially inflicted the open wound. It is a point at which destitution and ruination of coloniality begins, and decoloniality and onto-epistemic reconstitution take root. As an approach, the Journey not only reveals the disfigurement and pain caused by the violent matrices of power but also imagines decolonial futures. It is an onto-epistemic register for restorative thinking, creating, and being in the world. It embodies a physical and metaphysical reconstitution of the foundations of knowledge, being, and power across temporal and spatial dimensions. In the Glissantian sense, the Journey is an undertaking into a 'poetics of relation'.

The Journey proceeds in four instances. In the first instance, the Journey begins with foregrounding lived experience or the refugee condition. Lived experience is understood as an onto-epistemological position, a site from which embodied subjects grasp the world in exteriority. It is also a site of ceaseless transformation from which emergent epistemic utterances emanate. An in-depth grasp of lived experience as an onto-epistemic site is a necessary condition for the emergence of embodied subjects as 'questioning, speaking, writing, and creative subject[s]' (Maldonado-Torres, 2016, p. 29).

Grounded in lived experience, in the second instance, the Journey then delves into the generative factors that cause precarious forms of lived experiences. This includes understanding the structures of coloniality that create 'zones of being human and not being human or not being human enough' (Maldonado-Torres, 2016, p. 13). The goal is to expose and subvert the inherently colonial logics of power, knowledge, and being, which are deployed 'to detain metaphysical revolt (of time, space, and subjectivity)' (Maldonado-Torres, 2016, p. 3).

In the third instance, the Journey deploys profound questioning as a restorative, investigative and reflective method of investigating intercultural and inter-epistemic experiences and modes of knowing and being. Profound questioning is a transition away from Eurocentric notions of critique – a circular thought that revolves around and within Western thought without going beyond reason. Within this circular thought, what lies beyond Western thought and institutional frames is often perceived as either nothingness or unknowable. Profound questioning involves opening the frontiers of Western thought – onto-epistemic borders – thereby dissolving its universal claims to the plurality of the world in relation.

In the fourth instance, the Journey proceeds with a 'decolonial praxis' that is grounded in a non-exclusive, non-binary, and non-racial conception of sociality and humanity. The decolonial praxis is neither inclusive nor exclusive. Instead, it is simply an interaction between theory and practice that has been obscured by the invasive proliferation of inclusion. The decolonial praxis has been undermined by onto-epistemic imposition of an exclusive particular over the pluriversal and relational. Connecting lived experience with the potential for a decolonial existence is necessary to shed the masks of coloniality and unearth sediments buried in the abyss. It is the first step towards imagining new onto-epistemic and practical fields of resistance.


Decolonising Asylum will explore unique empirical, theoretical and metaphysical clues that can deepen our understanding of the realities of displaced people, leading to research-, teaching-, practice- and policy-oriented impacts.

Research Outputs
  • A book titled, The Coloniality of the Refugee, authored by Hyab Yohannes
  • Edited volume on Migration & Culture.
  • Co-authored book on Epistemic Justice.
  • Co-authored journal articles and chapters.
  • Development of MOOC(s).
  • Development of a refugee-led course.
  • Development of Research Methods course.
Community Work
  • Community engagement through a series of online, refugee-led seminars organised by UNESCO RILA
  • Capacity building through research-led practice and training.
With these outputs, Decolonising Asylum aims to effect change at four inter-related domains:
  • Empirical Domain – fill this empirical gap by uncovering the multiple axes of indifference, precarity and discounted capabilities that refugees are subjected to.
  • Structural Domain – investigate the conditions of possibility for the precarious realities of people seeking refuge, including the rule of “no-laws nor rights” and the carceral continuum with its borders, asylum regimes, and humanitarian responses.
  • Policy Domain – develop policy alternatives with a particular focus on decolonising the notions of asylum and integration at policy levels.
  • Conceptual Domain – examine modes of production and administration of power that are responsible for exploitation, collective indignation, and loss of rights of refugees with a particular focus on bottom tier refugees.