The insistence of states on confinement to camps, which developed into near-orthodoxy in the late twentieth century, has emerged alongside increasing refugee urbanization. I argue that the concept of “refugee” and state policy responses to refugeehood interact in a cyclical and self-perpetuating manner. The concept of refugee comes to act as a master category, or definitional term that draws clear, immovable borders around a particular discursive space; and in doing so ignores both people and places which do not adhere to its standards. The international community maintains a “camp bias” in refugee response policy, while urban refugees fall through the cracks of the international refugee regime and face significant service and protection gaps. This thesis poses the question, “What are the impacts of Agier’s conception of the refugee master category, translated into camp-centric refugee policy, on urban refugees?” I argue that the international refugee regime bases policy-making on a refugee master category that strives to embed the characteristics of collectivity, exceptionality, and temporality into popular concepts of refugeehood, while those refugees who do not conform to these characteristics, namely urban refugees, are excluded from assistance and face significant structural protection gaps. Based primarily on extensive literature reviews and case studies of Kenya, Egypt, and Lebanon, this thesis begins by discussing the urbanization of refugeehood and by defining the refugee master category in contrast to the realities of this urbanization. This thesis then describes the emergence of the camp-centric refugee response policy regime, using the development of Kenya’s camp-confinement policies as a case study. The challenge posed by urban refugees to the refugee master category is discussed, followed by an evaluation of the protection gaps facing urban refugees that result from both a refugee master category and refugee policy regime that turns a blind eye to the experiences of urban refugees. I conclude that both camp-centric refugee policies such as camp confinement and persistent protection gaps facing urban refugees effectively condition refugee behaviour in conformity with the dominant refugee master category, regardless of its inability to accurately describe contemporary displacement experiences, because the refugee master categories allow states to justify refugee policies that seek not the best interests of refugees, but the best interests of states through the externalization, marginalization, and exclusion of refugees.


Center for Migration and Refugee Studies

Degree Name

MA in Migration & Refugee Studies

Graduation Date


Submission Date

May 2013

First Advisor

Khallaf, Shaden

Committee Member 1

tarajan, Usha

Committee Member 2

Parrs, Alexandra


107 p.

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

Refugees -- Egypt.

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

Refugees -- Lebanon.


The author retains all rights with regard to copyright. The author certifies that written permission from the owner(s) of third-party copyrighted matter included in the thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study has been obtained. The author further certifies that IRB approval has been obtained for this thesis, or that IRB approval is not necessary for this thesis. Insofar as this thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study is an educational record as defined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 USC 1232g), the author has granted consent to disclosure of it to anyone who requests a copy.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Not necessary for this item