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When Options are Limited: Youth in the Middle East and North Africa in the Midst of Displacement, Unemployment and Covid-19

Session VIII-15, sponsored by Sponsored by Association of Middle East Children and Youth Studies (AMECYS), 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
Youth in the Middle East and North Africa have been increasingly challenged in the last decade. The lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 aggravated the gloomy reality of deteriorating economic conditions, on-going conflicts and refugee displacement. Both nationals and refugees have been affected by these issues, which have halted normal, everyday life and crippled production, education, and job opportunities. The aspirations of refugee youth to study, travel and find work opportunities at home or abroad have been limited due to several factors, including the increased securitization of borders, nationalization of jobs, and discrimination by host communities. All of these issues have been heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, resettlement programmes in the Global North have reduced admissions, leaving refugees closer to their native countries under conflict. New policies have been issued against the 'other' migrant and refugee and each state has governed its borders differently, prioritising services to nationalized citizens and limiting the options for refugees. The humanitarian aid industry, in turn, has increased its support to address the increased vulnerability amongst refugees in camps and in urban/rural settings. Yet, refugee youth continue to be 'banned' in their limited spaces. Many current Middle Eastern states, such as Jordan, act as clients of the Global North and use massive state and security bureaucracies to deregulate the private sector, extract rents , and confine “undesirables” (migrants/refugees). Neoliberal governance and the security state combines with informal social and cultural hierarchies that further limit opportunities for the majority of youth who are not located at the top of these informal hierarchies. These “Tiers of Invisibilisation” affect different youth populations in different ways. This panel will showcase several examples of this pattern and how youth in the region navigate them.
Disciplines
International Relations/Affairs
Participants
Presentations
  • The paper's purpose is to contribute to the substantial knowledge of the role's understanding and determinants for the Palestinian refugee youth living in the camps of Lebanon. They suffer from state's human rights violation and discrimination, lack of dignified living conditions, future prospects and foreseen durable solutions in the longest forced displacement. The research questions: How refugee youth perceive their own role in the mist of these difficult circumstances? And how do they plan for the future? How do Palestinian youth living in camps understand and reflect their role in the context of protracted displacement in Lebanon? Using a qualitative approach and thematic analysis to analyze the collected data will be used. Sixteen semi-structured interviews will be conducted with Palestinian refugees' youth living in the twelve Palestine refugee camps in Lebanon over the phone, and through video calls. The research is contributing academically to understand the role of the refugee youth from a people –centered approach and this brings an added value to the knowledge production which is based on lived experiences. Second, the research's importance is supporting the emphasis on the connection between resilience and perceived roles and expectations and protracted displacement. Third, it provides refugee youth the platform to amplify their own stories and understanding of their roles. Sharing these stories helps in shifting the narratives and stigma through giving rooms for the Palestinian voices. It allows to reflect on the roles that individuals may have and create in their displacement to thrive and reform their identity
  • This paper analyses the strategies of mobilisation of Palestinian transnational youth activism, focusing particularly on the new ways of engaging, cooperating and mobilizing across borders at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the past decades Palestinian youth have been reorganizing and mobilizing transnationally in order to overcome the political crisis and paralysis that characterized their national movement. New generations in Diaspora have attempted to reconnect across borders in an effort to re-elaborate new political visions and strategies able reunite a society geographically and politically dispersed. Benefitting from the facilitated mobility that the globalization process brought about in the past decades, youth were able to recreate transnational networks that allowed them to articulate common transnational strategies of mobilization in an attempt to recentralize the role of the Diaspora in national politics. The spark of the COVID-19 pandemic imposed a new change. Travel restrictions severely restricted youth mobility and the possibility to directly engage with Palestinian communities across the world. However, new forms of communication and political engagement emerged, relying heavily on the use of social media and online platforms. How has this change in communication and activism impacted on the elaboration of strategies of mobilization among Palestinian youth in the Diaspora? How have the changes in transnational communication impacted on the way Palestinian youth understand their political commitment in host countries? While travels were limited, virtual platforms are providing new spaces of exchange, facilitating and easing the encounter among youth dispersed across the world. These virtual spaces are becoming the prominent stage for understanding and planning political actions. How will this transformation shape future political engagement of transnational Palestinian youth and their ability to contribute to national politics? This paper aims at analysing transnational Palestinian youth politics during the COVID-19 era in order to understand how the pandemic has impacted on youth activism and the impact these changes might have on the understanding and elaboration of future political engagement.
  • Middle and lower-class Iranians in general are facing serious problems: inflation, poor economy, lack of jobs and money, poor opportunities for advancement, restrictions, political problems, and lack of personal freedoms—and in the last three years—covid19. Such difficulties impact Iranian youth all the more. Their parents have been set up in their lives, but the youth often have not. The expenses of a wedding, setting up a home, and supporting a wife—and children--are too often out of reach for young men who have great difficulties to find jobs—at the level which they expect. Fathers need to continue supporting young men and especially young women into their 20s and even 30s. Females face even greater challenges finding suitable jobs, gaining any independence, and finding suitable husbands. Although young women, more so than young men, would like to marry, young men often do not have the attentive, modern attitudes and behaviors young women have now come to expect. Men want to avoid responsibility. “Youth” is continuing into ever older years. For both females and males, emigration has become the dream, the only way out of their dilemmas. A Tehran friend stated: Iranian youth talk mainly about sex and migration. Based on about four years of living and conducting research in Iran and more than 30 interviews mainly with younger people about issues of migration, I find lack of perceived suitable alternatives to be the main reason for the wish to migrate. Females especially have to live with their parents, and thus cannot develop their independence, increasingly an expectation and wish among the young. With marriage ages of both males and females dramatically climbing, issues of sex also become problematic in the cultural milieu. Sexual gratification is culturally expected for both Iranian males and females, but particularly for females, it should be within the confines of marriage. Sexual relations outside of marriage have become much more common, sometimes bringing females more problems—such as need for (illegal) abortions. Iranians who want to migrate fall mainly into two groups: people who are disadvantaged or in trouble and see migration as the only way to escape, and people who have advantaged situations and want to progress further, to develop themselves and their talents, and see migration as the best or only way to accomplish this. Individual stories illustrate reasons for migrating, perceived pros and cons, and experiences and evaluations of migration.
  • Iran’s youth bulge was considered a threat for the Iranian government and an opportunity for the west. Iranian educated youth in the scholarship on Iran was portrayed as a force of modernity that would end the problematic behavior of the Iranian revolutionary government (Basmenji, 2005; Varzi, 2006; Khosravi, 2008; Mahdavi, 2009). However, the recent literature has focused on the survival strategies of the regime and especially the regeneration of political elites by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Imam Sadiq University, envisioning a more hardline view in the new generation (Bajoghli, 2019; Golkar, 2015). This paper tries to explain this change in the literature by focusing on the political socialization of Iranian youth activists and argues that the last two decades’ developments, especially the crisis resulting from the securitization of Iran-US relations and the current public health, have undermined the pro-democracy youth activists. The first part will focus on President Trump’s campaign of maximum pressure, which resulted in the socio-economic crisis in Iran. Draconian economic sanctions against Iran have dramatically decreased the capacity of civil society, especially young activists. Trump’s maximalist and interventionist policy also reinforced Iranian nationalism. While the Iranian diaspora’s opposition has found a louder voice, the young Iranian pro-democracy activists inside the country have faced more pressure and been marginalized. The second part of the paper will focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and explain how it has created more constraints for youth activists. Student and electoral activism are two important spaces of youth activism in Iran which the COVID-19 pandemic has limited. The crushing victories of hardliners in the recent elections (2020-2021) are partly the result of this limited space for young activists in the elections. Also, as one of the main pillars of the democratic movement in Iran, the student movement is in the doldrums. Based on interviews with the new generation of Iranian activists, this paper looks at the youth activism in the last two decades in Iran and argues that the socio-economic crisis resulting from the foreign policy tensions and public health emergency has created tremendous obstacles for Iranian youth and helped the Iranian authoritarians consolidate their power.
  • Youth in the Middle East and North Africa have been increasingly challenged in the last decade. The lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 aggravated the gloomy reality of deteriorating economic conditions, on-going conflicts and refugee displacement. Both nationals and refugees have been affected by these issues, which have halted normal, everyday life and crippled production, education, and job opportunities. The aspirations of refugee and local youth to study, travel and find work opportunities at home or abroad have been limited due to several factors, including the increased securitization of borders, nationalization of jobs, and discrimination by host communities. All of these issues have been heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, resettlement programmes in the Global North have reduced admissions, leaving refugees closer to their native countries under conflict. New policies have been issued against the 'other' migrant and refugee and each state has governed its borders differently, prioritising services to nationalized citizens and limiting the options for refugees. The humanitarian aid industry, in turn, has increased its support to address the increased vulnerability amongst refugees in camps and in urban/rural settings. Yet, refugee youth continue to be 'banned' in their limited spaces. This research aims to discuss the ways young refugees and locals navigate their options in the mist of closed borders, tight domestic measures in host countries and the increasing costs of socioeconomic life. The work presents a variety of youth including Palestinians, Syrians, Yemenis, Sudanese and Somalis who are challenged in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. The leading questions are: How have youth in the MENA region encountered these administrative, institutional, legal, socioeconomic and cultural difficulties? How have they have sought to sustain their everyday lives? How have lockdowns affected their vulnerable status?