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Colombian Former Refugees as Volunteers: Reframing Patron-Client Relations and Exchange Practices

Andrea Merino Ortiz


This article explores issues of social exchange amongst Colombian former refugees who do voluntary work for each other in Aotearoa, New Zealand. The complex dynamics enacted by those Colombians who consider themselves to be volunteers show how refugees reframe their cultural practices of exchange during settlement. They do so by negotiating the meaning and idioms of giving; in utilising the cultural narratives of resettlement – in this case, the language of voluntariado (volunteering) – former refugees deploy traditional structures of exchange, whilst simultaneously modifying their significance to fit their social milieu. This article uses two frameworks related to exchange practices: the Maussian notion of the gift and patron-client structures. It argues that Colombians’ voluntariado is embedded in intricate systems of generosity and reciprocity that follow particular types of power imbalances and significantly resemble patron-client relations. Overall, Colombians’ clientelistic notions of morality, loyalty, and friendship are fundamental to how they build sociality during settlement and are deeply important to how they understand themselves, their relationships, and their place in the world.


refugees; resettlement; migration; sociality; social exchange

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