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Refugee Migration and the Middle East: Revisiting Theoretical Frameworks

Panel V-11, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
The global refugee crisis has impacted the lives of millions of people across the world, and it has prompted a growing body of scholarship in the fields of migration and refugee studies. Whether in anthropology, sociology, or political science, the focus has traditionally been on the Global North and its role as a destination for refugees. Main theories emerged from the study of this part of the world. In the last decade, however, an increasing recognition of the Global South as both a refugee-generating and hosting region has been put forward. This literature usually employs already existing concepts or framing the Global South as an object of politics from the Global North. What is the significance of the Middle East in the context of the Global South, and how does it compare to other regions within the Global South and the world in general? In light of these developments, this panel invites submissions that explore the ways in which new empirical findings from the Global South challenge or contribute to the current theoretical understanding of state and refugee migration. The aim of this panel is to bring together scholars from a range of disciplines to engage in a critical examination of existing frameworks and to consider the implications of new empirical evidence for our understanding of the relationships between states, refugees, and migration. Possible topics for submission include, but are not limited to: - The role of the Middle East in shaping international norms and practices related to refugee protection - The impact of refugee migration on the political, economic, and social fabric of host countries - The ways in which state policies and practices towards refugees in the Middle East reflect or challenge dominant theoretical frameworks - The relationships between refugees and local communities and their implications for theories of integration and resettlement - The role of civil society actors in shaping state policies and practices towards refugees - The role of political regimes in migration politics We welcome submissions from a range of theoretical and empirical perspectives and from scholars based in the Global South and the Global North.
International Relations/Affairs
Political Science
  • Sevin Gulfer Sagnic
    In 2019, the Turkish Interior Minister declared that "If we open the floodgates to migrants, no European government will be able to survive for more than six months." The recent refugee crisis in Turkey and its impact on the European Union highlights the interplay between refugee governance and foreign policy. As the Syrian conflict persisted, refugees started to move from Turkey to European countries, leading the EU to reach a deal with Turkey to use the country as a buffer zone. However, eight years later, Turkey declared that it would no longer stop the "Syrian migrant flow to Europe" as its aggressive Middle East policy was not supported by the EU. This decision and the subsequent flow to the borders not only had international implications, but it also raises questions about how states can trigger or manipulate refugee migration. The concept of "coercive engineered migration" refers to cross-border population movements that are deliberately created or manipulated to induce political, military, and/or economic concessions from a target state or states(Greenhill, 2010). The use of migration and refugee crisis as instruments of persuasion by weak states against more powerful liberal states is a phenomenon with a longer history than 1951, but it has been increasing since the 1970s. Greenhill's research shows that in 73% of the 56 cases she studied, the generators of migration achieved their objective. While Greenhill gives a bird-eye view on frequency and the general framework of coercive engineered migration the state-level dynamics are less understood. Based on process tracing that relies on 35interviews with Turkish and EU stakeholders, media analysis, EU progress reports between 1998 and 2022 this article focuses on the concept on coercive engineered migration in Turkey. Discussing the evidence on how Global Southern states can instrumentalize the refugee population as tool in global diplomacy and it is implications for how we understand state and the global refugee governance. Through a systematic analysis of these sources, the study aims to uncover the ways in which Turkish authorities have used coercive tactics to engineer migration flows, and the extent to which these flows have been instrumentalized as a tool in Turkish foreign policy and how. The process tracing approach adopted in this study allows for a detailed examination of the causal mechanisms underpinning the use of coercive engineered migration in Turkey, shedding light on the broader implications of this phenomenon for regional and global refugee governance.
  • How has the phenomenon of cross-border mobility affected the politics of the Middle Eastern state? The relevant literature in comparative politics on the nature of the Middle Eastern state tends to overlook the importance of migration in shaping political processes, while the field of migration studies has historically highlighted questions of conflict-driven forced displacement in the region. In this paper, we bring research migration in conversation with the extensive work on rentier politics, in an effort to move the latter beyond discussions of oil or natural resources. Drawing on qualitative and quantitative data, we inductively argue that cross-border mobility produces migration rentier states along three dimensions: migration rentier states that develop as a result of labour emigration and immigration; refugee rentier states that depend on development and humanitarian aid geared towards the management of migration and asylum; and, finally, symbolic rentier states that benefit from migration for ideological or soft power purposes. The paper proceeds to put forth a typology of different migration rentiers and rent-seeking strategies that connect states, society, and market actors in this process. Overall, it identifies the utility of migration rentierism in order to understand the importance of cross-border mobility in shaping the political economy of the contemporary Middle East.
  • Emma Empociello
    Externalization of migration governance by the European Union and the rent effects produced by these international negotiations have dominated research on Jordan's migration policy. These studies question Jordan's sovereignty, assuming its policy is the result of an imposition by Northern countries, or at best, its ability to benefit from it. The study of political change at the time of the closure of the Jordan-Syria border in 2016 helps to nuance these theories. Indeed, this article demonstrates that the closure was the result of a Jordanian political decision, and an implementation enabled by both funding for the militarization of the border and a delegation to Northern partners.
  • Over the past 15 years, over 200,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and contracted foreign workers migrated into Israel. The growth of Israel’s asylum-seeking population, primarily from Sudan, South Sudan, and Eritrea, has struck central nerves in the Israeli body politic, drawing out contradictory impulses from various sectors. The public response has been divided between the governing coalitions of populists and their right-wing constituencies, set against civil society activists, liberal-left cultural figures, and the refugees themselves. The government has framed the “crisis” around refugees through legal and discursive tools that were central to the mass dispossession of Palestinians during Israel’s establishment in 1948, making today’s (African) refugee issue inseparable from the conflict over Jewish sovereignty itself. The 1954 “Prevention of Infiltration Law” was originally implemented to interdict Palestinian refugees who, in the state’s early years, could still walk across the borders from Lebanon or Gaza to their former villages. With the resumption of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership in 2009, the government began to invoke this law to define African asylum seekers as “infiltrators.” The discourse of infiltration signified a confluence of perceived threats, from Palestinian guerilla activity in the 1950’s to the “threat” that egalitarian democratic representation – if applied to all populations under Israeli sovereignty – would present to the country’s Jewish character. And yet, as James Loeffler and Philippe Sands have written, some of the principal legal minds active in the creation of Israel were also central to the codification of international law on refugees, asylum, and genocide. These thinkers viewed Israel as an exemplary cause: a state of refuge for a quintessentially stateless people, a national home for a de-territorialized minority. The tension between these impulses runs through the Israel’s juridical, political, and cultural foundations. When/how do advocates for refugee rights appeal to international law? And in what ways have activists appealed to Israel’s national identity/memory – insofar as the Jewish people were definitional to the creation of legal, moral, and cultural norms surrounding refugees? How does Israel’s geographic position – at the center of the Levant and sharing an overland border with the African continent – shape its reception of refugees? I will analyze recent developments in Israeli law, political discourse, and culture, reflecting on Israel’s complex position as either an analogue or a dark mirror for other developed nations’ ambivalence toward the refugee issue.
  • Rawan Arar
    Southern host states—including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Kenya, and Bangladesh—are vital to the contemporary system of refugee management. These countries confront challenges of porous borders and changing demographics. They address refugees’ urgent needs for food and shelter and the long-term challenges of education, unemployment, and the degradation of local infrastructure. The ways Southern host countries manage, control, and support refugee populations influences the movement of refugees to states in the Global North, the operations of international aid organizations, and the day-to-day lives of most of the world’s refugees. An apparent, but often overlooked, paradox emerges from recognizing the global distribution of the world’s refugees: Illiberal states protect more refugees than do liberal states. How can an illiberal regime protect more lives than a liberal democracy? I argue that illiberal states host most of the world’s refugees precisely because they can engage in illiberal practices to manage refugee populations and maintain final authority over their domestic territory. Humanitarianism is a stopgap measure that provides lifesaving relief, but ultimately, cannot take the place of rights. And yet, despite an array of fair critiques that can be wielded at Southern hosts and their illiberal governing practices, these countries provide more people with the right to live than states that have been celebrated for upholding the mantle of human rights.