Alternative Title

Locating Human Security in the City: The Case of Rohingya Refugees in New Delhi


This research examines the subjective experience of human security by Rohingya urban refugees who fled to New Delhi, India, from Myanmar, in 2012. It uses bottom-up, top-down, and historical-to-present approaches to recognize the myriad factors that influence the path to security. The bottom-up approach frames the Rohingya present-day experience; the top-down approach delineates motivations embedded in the current India state and the international refugee regime; and the past-to-present approach explains the perspectives of each of these actors.

One urban refugee settlement was chosen as a primary field site to examine the challenges and varied everyday experiences of the city for migrants. Two other urban settlements were selected for supplementary participant observation and the collection of quantitative data. At my primary field site, Rohingya men and women were interviewed to assess their feeling of security (in Rohingya hefazat or in Hindi suraksha). The perceptions of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) employees, government officials, and community representative were also recorded.

Human security, defined as a person-centered security, was assessed on three dimensions: political, economic, and community. Analysis of the data compelled me to focus on what I call political human security. Anthropologists theorize the embeddedness of new immigrants and resettled refugees through acts of cultural citizenship, assimilation, and integration. This study, however, demonstrates that for urban refugees their primary need is basic security. This security is inevitably political; Rohingya refugees are deemed “illegal” immigrants by the state, but are permitted to stay as protected wards of the UNHCR. They assume a refugee identity that both expose them to further exploitation, while also shielding them from starvation and disease. This politically formed identity must be negotiated in daily interaction in order to find security.

India is a first country of asylum for the Rohingya in this study. No South Asian country has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, making India a good case study for how South Asia may respond to refugee influxes into urban spaces. India is unwilling to allow Muslim refugees to become naturalized citizens, pointing to religious and cultural factors that produce insecurity in the South Asia region. Furthermore, tensions rise when apolitical agencies like the UNHCR call upon India’s conservative administration to protect a population they define as undesirable. By focusing on urban refugees and their interactions with the state and supranational organizations, this research demonstrates the importance of statehood and citizenship as instruments of sovereignty that uphold human rights and protect against insecurity.

Degree Date

Spring 5-18-2019

Document Type


Degree Name





Caroline Brettell

Second Advisor

Kacy Hollenback

Third Advisor

Neely Myers

Fourth Advisor

Nicolas Sternsdorff Cisterna

Fifth Advisor

Elzbieta Gozdziak

Subject Area


Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License




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