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Transnational Networks of Migration

Session XI-13, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • International humanitarian organizations heavily rely on local staff’s labor and expertise to implement aid programs in the Global South. Local staff who come from refugee and immigrant backgrounds are of particular value to these organizations’ everyday operations due to their exhaustive knowledge of local norms, languages, networks as well as their insider positionality among displaced communities. Despite this broad array of professional qualifications, local-refugee staff are rarely seen in leadership and decision-making positions. Instead, they are mostly employed to facilitate on-ground tasks and duties without sufficient opportunities to advance their careers. Such limited organizational mobility prevents local-refugee staff from making substantial contributions to humanitarian projects and influencing broader humanitarian agendas of their organizations. This article examines experiences of Syrian forced migrants who have been working as humanitarian aid professionals in Southeast Turkey to uncover challenges they encounter as local-refugee staff within the hierarchies among humanitarian professionals based on intersecting identities of ethnicity, gender, nationality/immigration, and class. Drawing on two years of fieldwork and life-history interviews with Syrian aid workers, I argue that the existing hierarchies undermine local-refugee staffs’ expertise and personal displacement histories as refugees and forced migrants. Most of the Syrian aid workers share the traumatic experiences of war and displacement with communities they try to provide aid and services. Their social, cultural, and emotional proximity to benefactor communities make their professional goals and motivations strikingly different from other local and expatriate professionals. Nevertheless, by being situated at the margins of the humanitarian sector, they encounter organizational resistance and gatekeeping whenever they attempt to intervene in substantive issues regarding humanitarian projects. By focusing on experiences of Syrian aid workers, this article illuminates the ways in which hierarchies within the humanitarian sector persist and reproduce neo-colonial relationships within the aid sector.
  • As Yemen has been ravaged by seven years of war and humanitarian catastrophe, 4 million Yemenis remain displaced within the country, while some 600,000 others have fled abroad. The most recent wave of Yemeni migration is mostly south to south- with people traveling to neighboring countries and places of Yemeni historical diasporas- but there are also growing numbers of Yemeni asylum seekers and refugees across Europe. In the context of the EU’s restrictive visa regime and the militarization and externalization of its borders, Yemenis’ transnational journeys to pursue refuge are illegalized, and therefore arduous, expensive, and often life- threatening. Building on my larger ethnographic and multi-sited research with Yemenis on the move, this paper sheds light on the lived experiences and embodied knowledge of borders of those who encounter and transgress them. To think about mobility and borders from the vantage point of those who travel to, and across, Europe without the ‘right’ passports, I trace the odysseys of three Yemeni refugees- Fawzia, Abu Khaled and Sami. In telling their stories, I focus in particular on creative strategies to subvert airport surveillance and control, as they attempt to leave Greece by boarding flights with fake documents to reach other European destinations of their choosing. Drawing on postcolonial approaches to migration and interdisciplinary work on subaltern politics, I propose to consider Yemenis’ irregular journeys as practices through which they seize their right to asylum. Furthermore, I show how borders constitute not only barriers to movement but are also sites of race and gender-making for Yemeni migrants, as on their ways they come to recognize their low position in the hierarchy of humanity. By centering Yemenis’ moves for a ‘liveable life’ and appropriation of movement, I aim to expand the gaze of the dominant research on the Yemeni crisis, in which ordinary people tend to be absent or flattened to speechless victims.
  • This project seeks to tell the story of how people leave, find, and make spaces of home for themselves in times of war and its aftermath. In 2014, Abkhazia, a separatist state that separated from Georgia after the break-up of the Soviet Union, sponsored repatriation trips for Syrians of Circassian descent. Disenchanted with the lethal conditions in Syria, the country they had grown up and lived in, at least 400 Syrian-Circassians decided to “return” to the homeland of their ancestors. While Abkhazia framed the trip as a homecoming, newcomers found themselves having to deal with the estrangement of life in the space of an aftermath of another war, that of separatism from Georgia. This project posits the question: how does one create spaces of home in the context of war and its aftermath? What role do women and their labor inside and outside the domestic space have in the practices of homemaking (which can also take place inside and outside domestic spaces)? And how does making home relate to the wider processes of nation-state building and capitalist market integration? The project hence examines the gendered spatial divisions of the home, and the ways they reflect themselves on different imaginings of the state, and movement between states/across borders. In this paper, I argue that Abkhazian statehood had come to be practiced and performed through Syrian war-time migrants’ repatriation and homemaking. I invoke Navaro Yael Yashin’s (2012) notion of the “make-believe space,” which she coins in an ethnography about the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, another unrecognized state, Abkhazia. As Yashin reminds us, the point is not to make an anomaly out of unrecognized states, but rather to consider that most administrative practices in those spaces are not different from other states and their own practices of make-believeness. By looking at houses that were abandoned and (re)inhabited by refugees, I examine the politicized and gendered ways that negotiations of state power reflect themselves inside and outside spaces of the home.
  • It is often argued that the collective memory of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 is central to the construction of Armenian identity. These kinds of traumatic experiences are not confined to their own time, but rather “travel” through generations. Using the concept of transgenerational trauma and based on 18 in-depth interviews with Syrian Armenian refugees in Canada, who are at the same time third- and fourth-generation Armenian Genocide survivors, my paper discusses the following questions: how a historical event becomes central to the collective identity of a group both in the homeland and outside of it; how this trauma is maintained and transmitted through generations; finally, what happens when a transgenerational trauma “meets” a lived traumatic experience such as war and forced migration. The main historical and social background against which I present my work is that in the last century, the Syrian Armenians have had to live with, manage, and negotiate two levels of reality. The first comprised their everyday actualities, economic opportunities and limitations, the political situation, the geography, their relations with other groups, and with other Armenian communities in Armenia and in the Diaspora worldwide. The second included the memories and the trauma of the Genocide which are still omnipresent in their lives and maintained through specific practices, as well as the challenges they faced as a minority group during the last century in Syria. These two levels of reality have interacted and influenced one another, informing the choices and the position of the Armenians during the Syrian war. One of my main arguments is that past trauma becomes an interpretive lens through which individuals make sense of their present traumatic experiences. In its turn, the new traumatic experience becomes a space, along with storytelling and ritualized practices, for the transgenerational trauma to be reactivated. Thus the Syrian Armenians fleeing the Syrian war often describe their experiences as a continuation of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and their becoming refugees as a shared experience with their ancestors.