World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Forced Migration and (Im)Mobilities in the Middle East (181) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 9.00-11.00 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Politics and International Relations / Sociology - Lancaster University (United Kingdom )

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Dr Victoria Mason / Dr Javier Caletrio Garcera

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Human displacement has been a recurrent feature in the recent history of the Middle East - indeed the Middle East is currently the largest refugee-hosting region in the world. As a result of colonisation, occupations by external powers, political violence, ethnic cleansing, and pervasive intra- and inter-state conflict, the refugee has become a key figure in the region’s political and cultural landscape and continuing instabilities suggest this reality will remain for the foreseeable future. Forced migration studies have made a significant contribution to understanding refugee flows in this region and in guiding policy and humanitarian interventions. Yet further efforts are needed to examine and theorise the relationship between forced migration and other forms of (im) mobility in a region where the circulation of people, objects, ideas and ways of life has historically been one of its defining features. Mobilities research has emerged as an explicit attempt to theorise mobility and globalisation (Urry 2000, Canzler et al. 2008). This new direction in social theory is concerned with conceptualising movement as constitutive of social, economic and political relations and emerges partly out of dissatisfaction with both the 20th century social theory’s vision of societies as physically contained within nation states and postmodern celebrations of nomadic life. In attending to mobilities in the plural, mobilities research seeks to account for the relationship between different systems of mobility and their embeddedness in asymetrical relations of power. In examining forced migration in the Middle East through a mobilities perspective, this panel brings these two schools of thought together in an innovative and interdisciplinary manner. Forced migration in the Middle East, and the physical, political, social and economic (im)mobilities that emerge as a result, are explored from a range of axes - at the point of displacement; during the painful process of seeking sanctuary; in rebuilding shattered lives; in exilic, diasporic and transnational nation-building; and broader economic-politico-social aspirations.

Chair: Dr Javier Caletrio, Sociology, Lancaster University

Paper presenter: Dr Victoria Mason, Politics and International Relations, Lancaster University, UK, Im/mobilities of Refugees in the Middle East: Iraqi refugees in Jordan

Paper presenter: Professor Linda Briskman, Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University, Australia, Fortress Australia: Deterring Middle Eastern asylum seekers

Paper presenter: Dr Vera Eccarius-Kelly, Political Science, Siena College, USA, Reshaping Political Access: The Kurdish Minority and Mobility in the EU

Paper presenter: Dr Maria Holt, Politics and International Relations, Westminster University, UK, Occupied Space/Diaspora Space: Palestinian Women and the Politics of Home

In the first paper, (Im)mobilities of Refugees in the Middle East: Iraqi refugees in Jordan?, Victoria Mason explores the experiences of the two million Iraqi refugees who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries as a result of the 2003 Iraq war. She examines this refugee flow through the lens of the pan-Arab tradition of hospitality and states receiving fellow Arabs as temporary ‘visitors’ and ‘guests’. By focusing on the case-study of Jordan, she shows how this discourse of hospitality has enabled a high level of physical mobility but has resulted at the same time in an ambiguous and precarious socio-legal status that has rendered social, economic and political mobilities difficult.

In the second paper: Fortress Australia: Deterring Middle Eastern Asylum Seekers?, Linda Briskman explores the mobilities of Middle Eastern refugees in the processes of seeking safety and asylum. She examines how political instability and violence in the Middle East have propelled the seeking of asylum even to distant Australia. While the numbers of Middle Eastern refugees seeking asylum in Australia are comparatively small, these refugees have been demonised and othered, and the categories of ‘Middle Eastern’, ‘boatpeople’ ‘Muslim’ and ‘terrorist’ have been conflated. Briskman explores the physical, economic and socio-political immobilities facing these refugees as a result of this othering, both during the process of seeking asylum and once asylum has been granted. She shows the concerted efforts of the Australian government to curb the very mobility of such refugees to seek asylum through ‘warehousing’ of those intercepted before they reach Australian territory and the mandatory detention of ‘unathorised’ asylum seekers who reach Australia. She then demonstrates that even if recognised as ‘legitimate’ refugees, such individuals face multilayered institutional barriers that radically impact their efforts to re-build their shattered lives. Having explored issues relating to the seeking of sanctuary and safety within the Middle East and far-flung locations such as Australia, the panel turns its attention to two displaced/exilic communities and the socio-political mobilities they negotiate in exilic/diasporic locations.

In Reshaping Political Access: The Kurdish Minority and Mobility in the EU? Vera Eccarius-Kelly demonstrates how a historically marginalised minority group - the Kurdish immigrant and refugee community in the European Union - has pursued supranational political opportunities in the diáspora. Her paper discusses the concerted strategic efforts that enabled the Kurdish community in Europe to transition from a group perceived as obstinate, to one that attained international protection and achieved ethno-cultural recognition and transnational political mobility.

In the final paper of this panel, ‘Occupied Space/Diaspora Space: Palestinian Women and the Politics of Home’, Maria Holt discusses how the physical and socio-political (im)mobilities of occupation and exile shape conceptions and politics of home for Palestinian women. Drawing on interviews with Palestinian women in the West Bank and in the refugee camps of Lebanon, her paper raises questions about ‘home’ and whether it is possible (or even desirable) to recreate home in the alien environment of exile. Holt explores Appadurai’s argument that [d]isplacement and exile, migration and terror create powerful attachments to ideas of homeland that seem more deeply territorial than ever. But it is also possible to detect in many of these transnations ‘the elements of a post-national imaginary’ (1996). By looking at the concrete reality of ‘home’ or inhabited spaces, she asks how memories of home support or enhance Palestinian women’s identities; how national identity has been affected by the absence of homeland; how the practice of resistance is enabling women to survive in embattled environments; and, lastly, how important are notions of ‘home’ in a post-national world. Hence these four papers explore critical issues and case-studies that highlight the complexities of physical, socio-political and economic (im)mobilities resulting from forced migration in the Middle East.