Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

The Imagination of the Other in a (Post-)Sectarian Society: Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the Divided City of Belfast

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Abstract:  This article explores the ways a salient sectarian community division in Northern Ireland frames the imagination of newcomers and the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees. We examine the dominant ethno-national Christian communities and how their actions define the social-spatial landscape and challenges of manoeuvring everyday life in Northern Ireland as an ‘Other’. We argue all newcomers are impacted to some degree by sectarianism in Northern Ireland, adding a further complexified layer to the everyday and institutional racism so prevalent in different parts of the UK and elsewhere. First, we discuss the triangle of nation, gender and ethnicity in the context of Northern Ireland. We do so in order to problematise that in a society where two adversarial communities exist the ‘Other’ is positioned differently to other more cohesive national societies. This complication impacts how the Other is imagined as the persistence of binary communities shapes the way local civil society engages vulnerable newcomers, e.g. in the instance of our research, asylum seekers and refugees. This is followed by an examination of the situation of asylum seekers and refugees in Northern Ireland. We do so by contextualising the historical situation of newcomers and the socio-spatial landscape of the city of Belfast. In tandem with this, we discuss the role of NGO’s and civil support organisations in Belfast and contrast these views with the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees. This article is based on original empirical material from a study conducted in 2016 on the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees with living in Northern Ireland.

Keywords:  asylum seekers; Belfast; ethnic identity; gender; imagination of the Other; nationalism; refugees; sectarian omni-presence



© Ulrike M. Vieten, Fiona Murphy. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.