The power of symbolic sanctuary: Insights from Wales on the limitations and potential of a regional approach to sanctuary

Catrin Wyn Edwards, Verena Wisthaler (Corresponding Author)

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Abstract

This article explores sanctuary policies and practices from a regional perspective. Following a declaration by the Welsh government in 2019, Wales became the first and only European region to explicitly connect to the wider sanctuary movement, with the stated intention of becoming a true ‘Nation of Sanctuary' (NoS) (Welsh Government. 2019. “Nation of Sanctuary: Refugee and Asylum Seeker Plan.” Cardiff: Welsh Government). We argue that the Welsh government’s approach to sanctuary is richly symbolic and is used strategically to compensate for the lack of formal legislative competencies in the field of immigration, and to position itself in opposition to the UK government. The article highlights the potential of symbolic policies to underpin a regional form of sanctuary, along with their limitations. We show that regions can use symbolic policies to overcome their lack of legislative competency in asylum policies and argue that symbolic policies allow regional governments to position themselves as allies to those supporting refugees and asylum seekers, and as an opponent of the state. In addition, we illustrate how a regional government's symbolic commitment facilitates concerted action on the part of relevant actors within the region. However, we also highlight the fragility and inconsistency of symbolic sanctuary.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3602-3628
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Volume49
Issue number14
Early online date04 May 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Keywords

  • Nation of Sanctuary
  • Regional sanctuary
  • Wales
  • discursive sanctuary
  • hostile environment
  • symbolic policy

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