Refugees as Homo Sacer A Life Without Rights in the State of Exception: The European Refugee Crisis Through the Theoretical Lens of Giorgio Agamben

Berit Svorkdal Hess

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis addresses the space between sovereign states and international obligations. More specifically it assesses how the European refugee crisis has affected the relationship between the sovereign state and human rights. It investigates how the refugees are placed in the figure of Homo sacer, and further it examines the room in which sovereign states interact with international agreements and human rights.
In the paper it is explained how the European government’s response to the large influx of refugees in the fall of 2015 and the following year, has been made possible by placing refugees in the position of Homo sacer. Further, it describes how the refugee crisis in Europe has opened up for nation states to treat human rights secondary to the laws of the sovereign state. Lastly, it looks to the governing forces in Norway and their changes in the country’s Immigration Law, and uses this as an example of how the exclusion of refugees is made possible through the State of Exception.
The conclusion of the research is that international obligations and human rights are indeed treated secondary to the sovereign state. This is made possible by positioning refugees within the figure of Homo sacer, which furthermore opens up for the inclusive exclusion of refugees. This is legitimised by creating a paradigm of security of the nation state and the protection of its citizen - the threat being the refugees challenging the nomos of state, territory and birth. A nomos the European nation states seeks to stabilise by placing refugees in the position of Homo sacer and opening up for a State of Exception. Hence, the refugee functions as the trigger for political action, whilst at the same time being the very foundation of the European nations states politics. Norway serves as an example of this, through the amendment of its Immigration Laws.

EducationsMSocSc in Political Communication and Managment, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2017
Number of pages80
SupervisorsMitchell Dean