RSC Trinity Term Public Seminar Series |Dr Anne Irfan (University College London), ‘Refuge and Resistance: Palestinians and the global refugee regime’

Palestinians have long held a peculiar positionality within the global refugee regime. Served by a specialised UN body, namely the Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), they are the most protracted refugee population in the world and the only group excluded from UNHCR’s mandate. As a result, Palestinian refugee politics – and particularly political resistance – has often been situated at the intersection of nationalism and internationalism. This talk, based on the forthcoming book Refuge and Resistance (Columbia University Press, 2023), will trace the history and politics of UNRWA’s interactions with Palestinian communities, particularly in the refugee camps where it functioned as a surrogate state. The book shows how Palestinian refugees invoked internationalist norms to demand their political rights while resisting the UN’s categorization of their plight as an apolitical humanitarian issue. In the process, we see how refugees must be understood as agents in shaping the global refugee regime, and not simply recipients of its services.
Anne Irfan is Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Race, Gender and Postcolonial Studies at University College London (UCL). She is a historian whose work examines the lasting impact of colonialism on modern displacements. She is the author of Refuge and Resistance: Palestinians and the International Refugee System (available now from Columbia University Press). ( (Order online now and enter code CUP30 for 30% discount)