Ageing and stateless
Non-decisionism and state violence across temporal and geopolitical space from Bhutan to the United States
in Statelessness, governance, and the problem of citizenship
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The implications of statelessness at refugees’ end of life are profound, but socio-political exclusion in old age is rarely examined. Resettlement with a path to citizenship is considered a durable solution. But in this chapter, we interrogate a limit case: older monoglot refugees from Bhutan find themselves resettled yet stateless in the United States. This limit case illustrates how U.S. refugee law clashes with U.S. citizenship laws, specifically policies on language, to create the precarious – and permanent – situation of statelessness for older refugees, with no viable path of ever becoming U.S. citizens. We argue that the failure of the U.S. state to decide and act to make an exception in this case is a form of state violence, extending theories that draw upon Giorgio Agamben’s ‘state of exception’. Non-decisionism, as the philosophical reverse of decisionism, also constitutes state violence. Furthermore, we argue for linking the decisionism of the Bhutanese state some 30 years ago with the non-decisionism of the American state currently. Non-decisionism is not an anomaly but a rule, its existence across time and across a state’s territorial boundaries acknowledged. For the older monoglot Bhutanese refugees in the United States, it is a suspension of inclusion, rather than merely an effect of exclusion; they are caught in a violent cyclical suspension of hope and despair that they would be one day accommodated into a polity. The weight of state violence notwithstanding, contestations materialise in localised community efforts for resistance and redress, for dignity upon old age and death for stateless refugees.

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