Cover of Unsettled Families by Sophia Balakian
Unsettled Families
Refugees, Humanitarianism, and the Politics of Kinship
Sophia Balakian

February 2025
248 pages.
from $28.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503639652
Paperback ISBN: 9781503641198



How the family unit exists simultaneously as a focus of humanitarian compassion and of securitized suspicion.

Against the backdrop of the global refugee crisis, Unsettled Families investigates the parameters that Global North governments and international humanitarian organizations use to classify most displaced families—more than 99% globally—as ineligible for resettlement, and often as fraudulent. But "fraud" as a category is not as self-evident as it may first appear. Nor is "the family." Based on long-term fieldwork between Nairobi, Kenya and Columbus, Ohio, Sophia Balakian tells stories of Somali and Congolese refugees navigating a complicated global assemblage of humanitarian organizations, immigration bureaucracies, and national security agencies as they seek permanent, new homes. Viewing the concepts of "fraud" and "family" from different vantage points in this context, Balakian shows how the categories begin to blur out of focus, sometimes to evaporate altogether; what seems to be contained within them scatter outside their received boundaries. Practices that resettlement organizations deem fraudulent are often understood by people living as refugees to be moral actions in an unequal world. Such practices allow them to fulfill obligations to kin—kin defined expansively, in ways that at times exceed the boundaries of normative, US frameworks. Bringing questions of kinship into current discussions on humanitarianism, Balakian locates "the family" as a crucial category in processes of producing, policing, and contesting the boundaries of nation-states, and of the nature of securitized humanitarianism in the 21st century.

About the author

Sophia Balakian is Assistant Professor of Social Justice & Human Rights in the School of Integrative Studies at George Mason University.