When Being a Good Samaritan is Not Good Enough: Church Sanctuary and Privileged Responsibility

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Interventions by states, civil society organizations, and individual citizens to support asylum seekers are often seen and justified as acts of rescue. The rescue frame suggests that any action that improves the precarious situation of refugees is a positive achievement. Commendable as it is to take responsibility for people in need, to use a rescue logic to assess support for refugees is problematic on three levels. Politically, measures that bring positive outcomes for individual asylum seekers can at the same time enable the continuation of an unjust status quo that is to the disadvantage of many others. At the level of civil society, the rescue logic makes it easier for civil society organizations to temper the intensity of their engagement with refugees with the argument that it would be unfair to expect that this support would come at the expense of their own interests, political status, or internal cohesion. Finally, by taking responsibility for asylum seekers, citizens might simultaneously reinforce their privileged position, and thus strengthen citizenship regimes that sustain the very exclusion of refugees they seek to protest. Based on the care ethical work of Marcia Morgan, an approach to refugee care is developed that goes beyond Good Samaritanism and privileged responsibility. Through aesthetic care, democratic listening, and political imagination, citizens and refugees can jointly develop acts of contestation that not only bring tactical gains, but also actually contribute to political transformation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1386-1404
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Refugee Studies
Issue number3
Early online date23 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • refugees
  • care ethics
  • privilege
  • church asylum
  • sanctuary movement

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