Unfreedom papers: Trafficking, refugee protection, and expertise after neo-abolitionism

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Trafficking is not simply a new form of slavery, but rather a complex multivalent and multi-sited process (Anderson and O’Connell Davidson, 2003). This article explores the exit strategies employed by coerced laboring subjects (Fernandez 2014; O’Connell Davidson 2015), to shed light on some of the many “varieties of unfreedom” (O’Neill 2011) in the global labor marketplace. Just as documentation has become indispensable for contemporary global mobility (Bales 1999; de Genova 2003; de Genova and Peutz 2010; Lawrance and Stevens 2017), trafficking survivors also need documentation to protect their newfound liberty. I argue that today trafficking victims deploy “unfreedom papers” as powerful evidentiary counterweights to resist securitized migration policies that would seek to reinstantiate their vulnerability and their potential for further trafficking, and in so doing obviate gradations of trafficking subjecthood created by the politicization of asylum. In the absence of corroborating testimony, trafficking survivors and their advocates engage expert witnesses in order to gain humanitarian protection. “Unfreedom papers”—documentation consisting of diverse records detailing the persistence of coercion and the failures of neo-abolitionist legislation interpreted with the authoritative voice of an expert witness—are now indispensable to trafficking survivors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-161
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Global Slavery
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2020


  • Asylum
  • Freedom
  • Migration
  • Securitization
  • Trafficking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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