This is an early extract from Dignity in motion: boundaries, bodies and rights, edited by Jasmin Lilian Diab (E-International Relations, in preparation 2021).
The landscape and demography of Northern Jordan have changed massively since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Mafraq and Irbid, two large cities in the north, have been overwhelmed by international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), helpers and refugees. The Zaatari camp, founded in 2012, currently houses 80,000 Syrian refugees and is 34 kilometers from the Nassib-Jaber international border (UNHCR 2020). One kilometer from the camp is the village of Zaatari, where as many Syrians now live as there were in Jordan before the crisis (AFCI 2019). Despite this, and because of its proximity to refugee hotspots, INGOs pay relatively little attention to the small community. The Syrians living in the village make up only part of the 79 percent of refugees in Jordan who live outside formal camps (AFCI 2019). This chapter argues that in the context of conflict-related mass displacement, reception rooms for refugees – for example rural settlements without camps – are not constituted solely by the state, border crossing or international humanity. Although the movements of refugees and forced migrants are constantly stifled and veiled, these places are further staged by the refugee movements and combine regional social histories, economic patterns and decision-making strategies that make up life in long-term displacement.
I conceptualize movement as a form of creative communication that is deeply embedded in socio-historical connections and relationships. Movement is both an individual and a collective pursuit. Viewed as a practice, it connects temporal roots and lineages, but is also explicitly tied to broader geopolitical and economic forms of power. By conceptualizing the understanding of movement and its lingering implications as being deep with local history and the spaces it inhabits, I propose an analysis of movement to understand how it is articulated and experienced in the current context of mass displacement. By prioritizing concepts of movement that relate to a local, historical context, it offers a counterpoint to the consideration of displacement and displacement governance, which begins with and centers the most affected.
I argue that a movement policy is constructed in contrast to a government policy that is traced back to certain forms of power in relation to the state, the international border system and humanitarian governance. This point of view therefore focuses on what people do and not on the (post) colonial borders or international humanitarian spaces that are built and maintained to control the movement. Immigrant spaces do not exist independently as spaces, but are staged by the migrants embedded in them. For example, an international border works and is recognized by the mechanisms that make it a border – the requirement of a passport or visa, control of people or vehicles, or the ability to shut down and stifle movement. However, they are only staged as boundaries when one tries to cross them and sets these demands in motion. Refugee camps function according to similar logics. Within the Middle East and North Africa, only 9.6 percent of refugees live in camps (UN Global Report 2018), and therefore examining displacement within these narrow parameters instead of starting with the migration movement itself, which helped create and co-create websites in overlooking important trends in migration.
This chapter seeks to show how the movement of refugees works in tandem with broader governance policies to simultaneously create spaces and situations and to enable new possibilities and possibilities for the study of long-term displacement. I evoke the concept of movement as creative communication as a methodical investigation to analyze protracted expulsions outside of the usual research prisms: security, political economy or international politics and humanity. Traditionally, in research into forced migration, the places migrants move through – the border, camp, internment camp, or settlement – are determined solely by the broader political, legal, or geographic dynamics that affect movement control and the definition of the migrant in certain ways. Such framing positions the migrant as an object to be governed, thereby abolishing the autonomy of each migrant and their ability to help constitute the situations or spaces within these broader dynamics. This conceptualization does not ignore the state or humanitarian politics of refugee policy, but rather shows the potential to understand the alternative strategies and articulations of migrant movements in order to constitute their own situation while deeply embedded in such rigid contexts. Therefore, the study of displacement is shifted from the borders of the border crossing or the refugee camp.
How does a study focused on migrant movements question existing understandings of long-term displacement, taking into account the material effects of governance structures? How do refugees and forced migrants move within the matrix of refugee governance in order to constitute their own migration experiences and to recreate the places where they lived during the protracted displacement? What are the implications for studying displacement when the focus is broadened to institutions or borders to consider how migrants themselves make these spaces what they are?
To answer these questions, I will begin with a brief review of the literature on Syrian migration to Jordan, with a particular focus on studying regional displacement. I pull out some of the broader systems of governance to show how migrants work within these structures, both resisting and acting through them. Next I look at how these spaces are co-constituted by the migrants themselves within the narratives of displacement. I focus on the village of Zaatari, a dynamic host community near refugee hotspots. This village was chosen because it represents broader migration patterns in the Middle East of refugees settling in urban settings rather than formal camps. This page consists of kinship, historical, social and labor movements that have lived consequences in the present. It represents a space that has functioned within the broader boundaries of refugee policy, but at the same time has been staged by the movement and communicative practices of migrants.
The study of regional displacement and Syrian migration
An immense canon of scientific papers on the Syrian crisis and the subsequent mass displacement of Syrians has been produced since 2011. This work included studies of international humanitarian responses, the impact of the crisis on Europe, internally displaced persons in Syria, and regional responses to the mass movement of Syrians across its neighboring borders into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
In particular, the studies focused on Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have provided rich insights into the experiences of Syrians with long-term cross-border displacement, drawing on the political, legal, economic and tribal systems of care and control in connection with refugee policy (Pallister- Wilkins 2016). Previously, leadership strategies of refugees (Turner 2015; Gatter 2017), hosting communities (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 2016b, 2018), social networks among urban refugees (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 2018; Betts et al. 2017; Chatty 2013; Stevens 2016), Faith-based NGOs (Wagner 2018), the political economy of the host countries (Turner 2015), the history of previous refugee populations (Chatty 2017), existing work routes (Oesch 2014; Wagner 2017) and state integration, protection, border control and security policies (Şahin Mencütek 2019; Achilli 2015; Achilli et al. 2017), to name just a few.
Such studies, however, frame the regional cross-border mass movement of refugee populations predominantly in broader narratives of security, political economy or international politics. For example, the comparative study by Zeynep Şahin Mencütek (2019) on refugee policies in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan mainly focuses on state policies and their motivations, trying to find potential government patterns and political changes over time. Similarly, Lewis Turner’s (2015) study of (non-) camp policies in Lebanon and Jordan focuses on an excavation of the economic and labor markets to analyze the reasons for the different government policies for the refugee population. Dawn Chatty (2017) and Ann-Christin Wagner (2020) use a historical framework in their studies on the Syrian displacement by working out the kinship and tribal connections that “still characterize community and individual relationships across modern national borders” (Chatty 2017, 26.). ). The stories of regional displacement in colonial and post-colonial contexts as well as pre-war work patterns and previous nomadic experiences as driving forces of the movement are analyzed. Matthew Stevens (2016) takes this analysis further to discuss these social networks and subsequent social capital between Syrians and Jordanians, to point out that social networks between Syrians and Jordanians, although once strong, were due to a lack of support from international aid agencies have shrunk and tired as the situation turned into a protracted displacement.
Although there are important dynamics to be considered under the guise of protracted displacement, these studies focus on the experiences of refugees through dynamics far removed from the refugees themselves, often on the motivations behind the politics or the experiences of migrants in relation to such government policies are respected, according to the fact. Such processes run the risk of dehistorizing the migrant and separating him from a multitude of experiences and survival mechanisms. At the same time, these studies run the risk of overlooking how refugees stage their own situation in the flight themselves and articulate their flight experiences through their own movements. This requires careful consideration of the reasons for the movement and how the movement itself portrays the refugee’s situation and the places where refugees work. In other words, by centralizing the movements that take place in the context of displacement as a form of communicative practice, such movements cannot simply be understood as crossing boundaries, fleeing violence, or seeking refuge. Movement so conceptualized connects the leadership of refugees due to displacement while incorporating the particular and contextual relationship of movement in the creation of a place.
Starting from critical human geography, I argue that places and situations are not only created from the boundaries drawn, the guidelines produced or the apparatus built for containment and control, but also through human action; through what migrants do to stage the space for themselves. As the critical geographer and border historian Matthew Ellis (2015, 415) asserts, the practices of cartography do not erase the imagined meaning or the “human activity” “inscribed in space”. Space gains meaning through the social processes of those who live in space, alongside the broader geopolitical power dynamic. Therefore, not only the borders or borders created by imperial powers, state actors or international aid organizations should be the focus of studies on long-term displacement. Rather, it should include how the territory itself is created in the imagination of the space users: the “usage patterns and settlement histories” (Ellis 2015, 415).
Constructing displacement differently: work, legal and host stories
The governance practices discussed in this section, in my opinion, obscure various articulations and experiences of space that reveal alternative strategies and possibilities for the movement’s politics. Exercise practices, from economic work patterns to family and kin ties to access to goods and other resources, are an important part of cohesive local history.
Before the Syrian Revolution, Levantine neighbors traveled and worked freely across borders. The Syrian middle class found business opportunities in Damascus, Beirut and Amman, creating a cycle of labor. These “mobile strategies” were anything but linear, as Syrians – both the rural low-skilled and the urban middle class – traveled back and forth between the locations for professional reasons (Oesch 2014). It is crucial that those who have traveled professionally – for example teachers, actors, artists – did not justify their movement in a narrative of expulsion, but rather as an inability to do their job (Oesch 2014). When the violence increased and people had to leave Syria, many continued these cycle patterns and showed that mobility cannot be understood in isolation from its history: It is “not a new phenomenon, but rather an expansion of their movements before the crisis” (Oesch 2014 ).
Likewise, many men looked for work in northern Jordan before the war. Syrians participated in low-skilled, manual labor, which revealed important “translocal mobilities” beyond the framework of “conflict-related displacement” (Wagner 2020, 184). When the war started, Syrians who worked in agriculture in northern Jordan became the capital[ed] over old employment networks “in order to make a living (Wagner 2017, 110). These cross-border economic patterns reflect why many Syrians did not register when they arrived in Jordan or Lebanon, as many did not consider themselves refugees (Oesch 2014). Recognizing and incorporating such circulating border patterns as the economic, social, and desirable norms that existed before the conflict has been lost in the practice of refugee policy. Cross-border family and labor relationships existed long before the civil war, but this crisis put such employment, family, and tribal relationships under immense pressure.
In the broader context of refugee policy in the Levant since 2011, neither Jordan nor Lebanon signed the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. Historically, Chatty (2017, 26) claims that “the Arab and Syrian institution of hospitality and refuge” as brother Arabs created space for peoples to move across vast areas over the past century. Such people were often well cared for as quickly as possible by both the state and society through integration programs, the granting of citizenship, and the provision of land and other self-sufficiency measures (Chatty 2017, 25-26).
When large numbers of Syrians began to cross these borders, Lebanon and Jordan took markedly different approaches to the influx of Syrians. Dating back to the Ottoman Empire, the refugee decisions in the region were based on a traditional understanding of personality based on Arab, Islamic or tribal ideas of brotherhood, refugee or guest. International or “Western” humanism in the Levant had not played a significant role. Lebanon continued these traditions and decided to deal with its Syrian neighbors independently of international aid networks through “civil society engagement” (Chatty 2017, 56).
Jordan, on the other hand, invited the UNHCR to its borders and founded the first Syrian refugee camp Zaatari in 2012 in order to disperse “makeshift settlements” near cities (Hoffman 2017, 103). Although during the initial influx of Syrians it was praised as “generous and hospitable”, access for certain people – for example “unaccompanied male adolescents” – became increasingly difficult (Chatty 2017, 29). Security, rather than hosting, has been replaced as the dominant narrative. Using international humanitarian governance, the Jordanian government has further strengthened the correlation between migrants and security, invoking the colonial Syrian-Jordanian border to reinforce who belongs and who represents the “other”. Many of those from the Syrian governorates of Homs or Dara’a did not see themselves as refugees, but resorted to their tribal history. However, such a policy constructed “Syrian” Bedouins as refugees and thus clearly not belonging (Wagner 2020, 176). In addition, many Syrians in Jordan found the term “refugee” condescending and decided to ignore this term entirely (Simpson and Abo Zayed 2019, 6). Such linguistic preferences show how family connections far outweigh modern categorizations in governance.
Historically, before the crisis, Jordan welcomed migrants and refugees to its borders as an important host country in the region (Achilli et al. 2017). Identifying the broader escape histories in the Levant helps untangle the complexities of Lebanon and Jordan’s pathways and the contexts in which forced migrants were able to communicate movement strategies to shape their new circumstances. Turner (2015) posits that Jordan’s initial policy towards Syrians was mainly triggered by the history of Palestinians and Iraqis taking in and oversaturation of these populations in the labor market. While camps for Palestinian refugees were set up in Jordan after the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, these rooms were considered “a serious source of political instability” (Turner 2015, 392). Government policy changed dramatically, however, when Iraqi refugees traveled to Jordan not because of the security dynamics, but because of the capital and resources of the arriving people. Initially, the Iraqis arriving in 2005 were “overwhelmingly urban, educated and from the upper and middle classes” and were therefore not referred to as “refugees” by the Jordanian regime (Turner 2015, 392). Iraqis have been able to integrate into society because of their class status and economic potential. Due to its location, no camps were built and Jordan did not seek international help until the end of 2006 (Turner 2015, 393). However, since Jordan initially opted for a non-camp policy for Iraqi refugees, it later failed to gain the recognition required for international funding.
When large numbers of Syrians arrived, Jordan built camp policies and severe economic restrictions to both control freedom of movement and justify international funding. Turner (2015) argues that safety concerns were only partially responsible for such guidelines. Economic considerations were fundamental in making decisions about evictions. Governance strategies had to compensate for the domestic political effects of cross-border crossers from lower socio-economic strata with limited resources, while taking into account the demands of the Jordanian workforce, who already showed displeasure when the Syrians arrived, while emphasizing the need for international support and finances (Turner 2015, 394 -396).
Zaatari Village under North Jordanian Expulsion History
The village of Zaatari is one such place, which was shaped by Syrians and Jordanians, who stage their own situations of displacement by moving, working and communicating and thus use the place as an effective living space despite the consistent government policy. The village has been redesigned and rebuilt since 2011 through displacement. Both Syrians and Jordanians who live here suffer as a host community from immense economic hardship and social pressure due to gaps in aid supplies (AFCI 2019). Jordanians and Syrians share access to resources and space, often relying on existing and reactivated social, economic and historical networks. This site represents a variety of communicative movements characterized by worker and local historical geographies, broader patterns of community movement between the Syrian areas of Dara’a and Homs, and their proximity to the border and refugee hotspots.
Within the settlement, relatives provided land free of charge so that refugees could build their own homes at a fraction of the cost of other areas (Wagner 2020, 182). Those who have the financial means are allowed to build concrete houses and other infrastructure such as shops to make a living (Omari 2014). In the heart of the village is a “makeshift tent city” – around 50 percent of the refugees living in the village live in tents (Wagner 2020, 180). Some tents have electricity and houses often consist of multiple tents to accommodate larger families. Many newly arrived Syrians offer cheap labor as tilers, field workers or bakers in exchange for a piece of land to live on or access to electricity (Wagner 2020).
In displacement research, the reasons why and where to seek refuge are often minimized. The role of transnational connections has been insufficiently researched, both in the context of the Syrian uprising and after the mass displacement. Currently “80 percent of the Syrian refugee flows settle across international borders in cities and villages where they have social and economic networks” (Chatty 2017, 26). Such decision-making strategies help piece together a dynamic jigsaw puzzle of local social histories and ideas of space and identity, while having profound implications for the analysis of refugee policy.
Since 2014, the government policy imposed on the Syrians in Jordan has become significantly tougher. For people who live in urban areas, access to basic services such as nutrition programs, health care and education is becoming increasingly difficult. Syrians who work without proper documentation risk exploitation through longer working hours and lower wages than their Jordanian counterparts. Contrary to popular belief, Syrians who work in the Jordanian labor markets have mostly replaced other migrant workers in certain sectors instead of replacing Jordanians themselves (Turner 2015, 396). Urban refugees living in extreme poverty are at risk of “arrest” [and] Exploitation ”and are forced to choose between moving to a formal camp or deportation to Syria if they are looking for informal employment opportunities (Achilli 2015, 7). As the situation turned into a protracted displacement by 2014, Syrians entering Jordan were encouraged to stay in designated areas controlled by international humanitarian aid in order to keep Syrians out of urban areas. These strategies of tightening opportunities and services for refugees are a direct attempt to control the movement.
Chatty (2017, 26) argues that in order to understand the nature of the Syrian displacement and Jordanian reception in the present, the historical networks and “ethno-religious communities” have to be extrapolated. Many of those who fled to northern Jordan came mainly from Homs and Dara’a and share with northern Jordanians belonging to the Beni Khaled Bedouins (Wagner 2020, 181). Although many of the rural populations within Syria – from Homs to Aleppo to Palmyra in the west – moved to the cities and villages for education and employment, “family ties through tribe, clan and family are still important” (Chatty 2015). These kinship ties are fundamental to understanding how relationships and routines have shaped villages and towns in northern Jordan and the current movements during war and displacement. In a subnational study of the Jordanian response to Syrian migration, it was shown that Mafraq, the city closest to the Syrian border in the study, is more welcoming and accessible to Syrians than the cities of Sahab and Zarqa, precisely because of the ‘expanded’ cross-border kinship networks “(Betts et al. 2017, 12). Interesting to note, and controversial among academic scholars in the area, is that the economy was viewed as less central than these tribal associations. Nevertheless, the importance of the local context in this study cannot be denied, given the proximity of this place to Syria and the resulting family ties.
Despite debates, communication between these communities has been maintained through years of visits and marital ties, so that newly arrived Syrians feel welcome and connected through a “common ancestry” – “the same dialect and the same family” (Wagner 2020, 181). Ann-Christin Wagner (2020) was unable to verify herself, but remembers a story of a conversation partner who pointed out that the village of Zaatari was founded by Syrians in the 1960s and received Jordanian citizenship in return for their services to the city had received. Although the economy of these rural cities and settlements has been immensely stressed, there is a “passive acceptance … partly due to longstanding royal ties before the conflict” (Betts et al. 2017, 12).
Similarly, Matthew Stevens (2016) emphasizes the desire and need for friends and family in emergency situations and conveys the importance of identity and social networks during the flight. In doing so, he takes up Wagner’s (2020, 182) statement that “where Syrians seek refuge and how well they fare in exile depends on the type of transnational pre-war ties”. Undermine many Syrians by “reactivating older notions of tribal identity”[ed] State logics of containment ”(Wagner 2020, 184).
One agreement that illustrates the importance of these earlier ties was the rescue program, which enabled Jordanians to sponsor their Syrian relatives and help them avoid refugee camps. When the restrictions were tightened in 2014, this system was one of the few ways Syrians could legally leave the camp and gain access to the services of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or the Jordanian government (Achilli 2015, 5-6). Sponsors had to be “over 35 years old, married, with a permanent job, without police records and” [in] a direct family relationship ”of the Syrian; but even with these references, rescue operations were not always approved (Achilli 2015, 5-6). As a result, Syrians found it increasingly difficult to move around urban areas and to leave the camp legally (Achilli 2015).
Although the official rescue program ended in 2015 at the request of the Jordanian authorities, many of the Syrians who were given refuge did so through “homemaker families, especially those who fled Der’a and the surrounding villages” (Chatty 2017, 31). Such “transnational kinship networks” gave Syrian refugees more security in the form of “legal status, material resources and livelihoods” (Wagner, cited in Lenhard and Samanani 2020, 181). By navigating through government systems together, many Syrians were able to avoid the harsh conditions of the camp and instead favor local integration.
Wagner (2020, 181) describes the story of Abu Mohammed, whose movements represented a specific form of communication that was dictated by strong “transnational kinship networks”. Abu Mohammed called relatives before his trip from Homs began and informed his family of his plans. Bei seiner Ankunft in Jordanien wartete seine jordanische Großfamilie darauf, dass er seine Papiere fertigstellte und mit ihm ins Dorf Zaatari zurückkehrte, anstatt in das formelle Lager (Wagner 2020). Für Abu Mohammed spiegelte die Suche nach einem Grenzübertritt eine Abstammung der Bewegung wider, ein historisches Verständnis, das die Solidarität mit Verwandten (Verwandten) weit über die Vorschriften der Vertreibungsregierung hinausstellte. Diese Großfamilie bahnte sich ihren Weg durch einen Regierungsapparat, der sich auf verstrickte Bewegungsgeschichten stützte – verbunden mit Arbeit, Familie und Land –, die die Kategorien, mit denen Vertreibung regiert wurde, in Frage stellten.
Obwohl diese Verwandtschaftsbeziehungen und komplexen geografischen Sozialgeschichten nicht ignoriert werden sollten, erfasst die alleinige Nutzung dieser Verbindungen jedoch nicht die Komplexität der Dynamik innerhalb einer langwierigen Vertreibung. Die Lagerpolitik in Nordjordanland im Jahr 2012 wurde sowohl von Regierungsbeamten als auch von Stammesführern vorangetrieben, die angesichts der Menge an Syrern, die die Grenze überqueren, besorgt über die Belastung der ländlichen Dörfer im Norden waren (Turner 2015, 392, 395). Das nördliche Gouvernement Mafraq umfasst viele Gemeinden mit 5.000 oder weniger Einwohnern, und mit dem Zustrom von Syrern – geschätzt zwischen 70.000 und 200.000 – mussten sich diese Siedlungen dramatisch verändern (Turner 2015, 396). Turner stellt bei der Analyse von Flucht innerhalb eines wirtschaftlichen Rahmens zwei wichtige Aspekte in Bezug auf Bewegung innerhalb von Flucht heraus: die Klasse und die Ressourcen der Flüchtlinge – was sie mitbringen – und wie diese Elemente in die Orte passen, an die sie sich bewegen und innerhalb derer sie sich bewegen.
Da „58 Prozent der Syrer außerhalb des Lagers“ aus ländlichen Gebieten stammen und weniger gut ausgebildet sind als ihre jordanischen Kollegen, lassen sich viele Syrer aus den ärmeren Regionen Dara’a und Homs eher in Städten und Dörfern der Norden, die günstigere Lebenshaltungskosten haben als die größeren Städte oder die Hauptstadt (Turner 2015, 396). Während die frühere Flüchtlingsbevölkerung, bestehend aus wohlhabenden Irakern, nach Amman zog, hatten ärmere Syrer nicht die finanziellen Möglichkeiten, sich in solchen Räumen niederzulassen. Darüber hinaus besteht diese Bevölkerung aus vielen ungelernten Arbeitern, die außerhalb der Städte in der Landwirtschaft arbeiten. In diesen kleineren Städten und Dörfern herrscht bereits eine hohe Arbeitslosigkeit, und Syrer – von denen viele niedrigere Löhne akzeptieren als Jordanier – verschärfen die Not der Gastgemeinden (Turner 2015). Dies zeigt uns, dass im Rahmen der Vertreibungsforschung neben den kontextuellen Entscheidungen, wie und wohin man sich bewegen soll, auch die Bewegungsfähigkeit untersucht werden muss.
Wagner (2017) enthüllt die Überlebensmechanismen vieler jüngerer Generationen aus ländlichen Familien in Mafraq, einer Stadt in der Nähe des Dorfes Zaatari. Diese Strategien funktionieren über Vertreibungsnarrative oder humanitäre Governance-Verständnisse hinaus und stützen sich eher auf „translokale Mobilitätsprogramme“, die schon lange vor 2011 existierten (Wagner 2017, 113). Vor der Krise verließen sich ländliche Gemeinschaften, oft aus niedrigeren sozioökonomischen Schichten, auf „den Beitrag aller Familienmitglieder“, einschließlich der Beteiligung Minderjähriger an landwirtschaftlicher Arbeit und Frühverheiratung (Wagner 2017, 112). Syrer aus der Unterschicht hatten fundierte Erfahrungen mit der „kurzfristigen saisonalen Migration“, die die Grenze überquerte, um für ihre Familien über die Runden zu kommen (Wagner 2017, 113). Diese wirtschaftlichen Verbindungen waren nicht nur mit Verwandtschaftserfahrungen verbunden, sondern unterstützten auch Jordaniens landwirtschaftlichen Landbedarf (Betts et al. 2017,12). Daher sind im spezifischen Kontext Nordjordaniens die sozioökonomischen Dynamiken und Bewegungsnormen vor der Krise von grundlegender Bedeutung für das Verständnis der Kommunikationsmuster, die innerhalb der Rubrik der Flüchtlingspolitik stattfinden.
Analyzing experiences of displacement through the conceptualization of movement as creative communication, draws on a multiplicity of motivations, histories, relations, needs, requirements and forces. Combined, they co-constitute the situations and sites in experiences of displacement. In prioritizing the movements of forced migrants as the object of study, and how this movement interacts with the power structures governing border crossings, urban settlements or camps, such sites can be theorized as spaces of communication whereby refugees enact their own situations in spite of oppressive forces. Evoking such a framework allows for the inclusion of an analysis of the political, economic, legal and social, but it does so through an understanding that the migrants themselves – working within these categories and policies – simultaneously enact these spaces by their very presence and movement.
Within the context of protracted displacement, movement is often stifled by the state, national borders or through interactions with humanitarian apparatuses. Framing movement as creative communication does not deny this, but rather facilitates a discussion on the highly contextual need to study displacement, focusing on migrant movement not as a linear practice, but as belonging to wider circulatory, translocal patterns. The movements of people are explicit iterations made to constitute their own situations.
Centralizing movement reveals the power migrants have to enact their own spaces and situations, where usually the conditions of the spaces projected upon them through domestic or international governing policies are the focus. I identify an interconnected web of communication strategies and histories often ignored within the traditional study of displacement. Such a methodology presents the refugee or forced migrant not as a subject to be governed, but rather a dynamic and complex individual, entangled in power dynamics often beyond their control. The case of Zaatari village shows how migrants hold a capacity to enact sites and situations through their very presence and relationship to structured governance.
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Wagner, Ann-Christin. 2020. ‘Acts of ‘homing’ in the Eastern Desert – How Syrian refugees make temporary homes in a village outside Zaatari Camp, Jordan’, in Johannes Lenhard and Farhan Samanani (Eds.) Home: Ethnographic Encounters. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Further reading on e-international relations