Liminal legality and the construction of belonging: Aspirations of Eritrean and Ethiopian migrants in Khartoum

29th February 2024

Tanja Muller – Professor of Political Sociology, School of Environment, Education and Development,┬áThe University of Manchester


In this talk, I analyse what forms of belonging and un-belonging are created in a situation of permanent liminal legality. The concept of liminal legality zooms in on spaces of social existence in everyday lives in a context of legal ambiguity or uncertainty. The focus of the talk are Eritrean and Ethiopian migrant communities who resided in the Sudanese capital Khartoum in 2021. The majority had lived in Khartoum for decades, or were even born there, but remain without any hope for full legal status or citizenship.

Based on fifteen in-depth interviews with Eritrean and Ethiopian migrants each, so thirty interviews in total, the paper analyses the complex and ambiguous forms of belonging and un-belonging this liminal legality produces, and how aspirations are created and shaped by it. The paper argues that in certain aspects of everyday life, liminal legality does not hinder a social existence as a quasi-citizen of Khartoum. At the same time, important aspirations are being curtailed by liminal legality, and create forms of un-belonging that undermine this social existence. The paper concludes that migrants are subject to the enduring power of the nation state in defining who belongs and who is excluded.