Asylum, Racism, and the Structural Production of Sexual Violence against Racialised Women in Exile in Paris


The recent arrival of refugees from Ukraine has thrown into sharp focus the racialised colonial underpinnings of the French asylum and refugee system, as the open-door welcome afforded to Ukrainians, supposedly “closer” to the French population, highlights the rejection and marginalisation of “others” who seek refuge in the country. The current situation lays bare not only the “double standards” applied to refugees depending on their country of origin and race, but also the colonial foundations of the French asylum system as a whole. This might be seen as particularly significant in a country where even within academic research on asylum and refugees the racial and colonial foundations of the current system are rarely mentioned, and where the principle of Republican universalism has been consistently used to both hide and justify racialised and gendered forms of inequality and discrimination. In this contribution we wish to explore the ways in which the coloniality of the French asylum system works to deny exiled women access to welfare and social services, creating systems of racialised and gendered violence against them. We highlight the ways in which the State not only neglects these women, but actively contributes to violence through its racialised neo-liberal policies. The withdrawal of access to welfare and social services, including housing, welfare payments or health services, all form a part of this system of structural violence which leads to increasing levels of harm. Based on ethnographic research carried out in the Paris region, our article aims to emphasise that the structural production of gendered violence, particularly sexual violence against racialised exiled women, illustrates the coloniality of the asylum system and more broadly of the migration regime, which manifests itself in policies of exclusion, neglect and endangerment—including death. Keywords: gender; race; violence; coloniality; asylum; France; Paris