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Ambiguities of Sovereignty: The Crises of Humanitarianism, Climate Change, and Refugees

Panel VI-24, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 4:00 pm

Panel Description
  • Ms. Danae Panissié -- Presenter
  • Dr. Nils Lukacs -- Presenter
  • Mr. Umit Seven -- Chair
  • Houman Oliaei -- Presenter
  • Ayda Pomeshikov -- Presenter
  • Ayda Pomeshikov
    The contemporary world has witnessed an increasing number of people forcibly displaced from their homes due to conflicts, wars, and persecution, leading to the formation of new communities and relationships across national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries. This article aims to shed light on the alternative forms of belonging that emerge among displaced women through their everyday practices and interactions with host societies. In contrast to ethnocentric ideas of belonging that are tied to a specific location or national identity, this study highlights the everyday practices of home-making, self-fashioning, kindness, and solidarity among displaced individuals and hosts as alternative ways of building a sense of belonging in multicultural and multinational communities. These mundane practices challenge the dominant nationalist ideas, or the “national order of things” as described by Malkki (1995) that rely on the normative idea of belonging rooted within national borders and communities, reinforcing the ethno-national discourses of belonging. I argue that social and affective practices of belonging are crucial for the survival and well-being of displaced communities. Drawing on ethnographic research and life-history interviews with Syrian refugee women, I illuminate the ways in which forcibly displaced Syrian women become agents of their own social identity and belonging, engendering a sense of attachment and security as they move through and resettle in unfamiliar spaces. In the face of political, economic, and humanitarian hardships, including the COVID-19 pandemic and earthquakes in Southeast Turkey, the strategies employed by Syrian refugee women to avoid (un)belonging and antagonisms while negotiating to ensure social security for themselves and their families became crucial for their social survival in the region. By utilizing common cultural grounds of neighborliness, piety, motherhood, and hospitality, these women carve out a space for themselves within local communities. The article analyzes the relationship between identity, belonging, and displacement from women's perspective while providing a relational and contextualized approach to the concept of belonging, emphasizing the importance of everyday practices and interactions in the formation of a sense of attachment and security among displaced communities.
  • Houman Oliaei
    The attack of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) on the Sinjar Region in August 2014 forced more than 300,000 Yezidis to flee and seek refuge in the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Northern Iraq. This paper, based on ethnographic research conducted among displaced Yezidis in a camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, examines the conflicting temporal expectations held by Yezidis, humanitarian actors, and state officials. Yezidis aim to create a sense of normalcy and stability in their new environment, while humanitarian and state organizations aim to create a temporary and inhospitable space to encourage Yezidis to return to their place of origin in the post-ISIS era. In the last eight years, the Kurdish and Iraqi Governments have worked alongside humanitarian organizations to implement a range of measures to create what I term a "humanitarian meantime." This refers to a condition marked by a sense of alienation and perpetual waiting, brought about by measures such as depriving Yezidis of privacy, continuously monitoring their private spaces, and prohibiting them from making any significant modifications to their living spaces, all with the aim of forcing Yezidis to view their displacement as a temporary situation. The designation of Sinjar as a "disputed territory" between the Iraqi and Kurdish governments has severely restricted the options available to displaced Yezidis in Iraq, hampering their ability to resettle or integrate into host communities. Any such efforts could alter the demographic composition of the Sinjar region and potentially challenge the control and power of both governments. Given these dynamics, the paper argues that instead of serving as a permanent "space of exception," the camp for displaced Yezidis represents a "space of deterrence" - an unpleasant waiting zone that constantly drives residents toward leaving the camp.
  • Ms. Danae Panissié
    The chapter presents the root causes of forced migration in the MENA region as immanent in authoritarian rule. It is divided into two sections. The first shows why forced migration has been a relevant feature of MENA politics by taking stock of the phenomenon in cross-regional trends and figures of the past decades. In addition to data on migration flows, results from various representative polls among the region’s populations on their migration experiences and aspirations are taken into account (such as Arab Barometer, Arab Opinion Index, German polls among refugees). The second section sheds light on the persistent and systemic factors that leave people with few choices but to flee. Authoritarian rule that deprives the largest parts of the region’s population of an inclusive, just, participatory, financially viable, healthy, safe and ultimately free existence is considered the core root cause of forced migration (various datasets are analyzed here, such as HDI, World Bank data, MPI, EIU democracy Index and evaluations from reports, like Freedom House, AHDR, ILO, AI, etc.). Armatya Sen’s approach (Development as Freedom, 1999) is thus key to this chapter’s understanding of the developmental deficits as underlying reasons for persistent migration out of and within the region throughout the last decades. The counterargument from mainly IR literature that points to the fact that not all non-democratic states produce mass exodus or that forced migration remains a factor in large parts of Latin America despite democratization trends, will be accounted for and discussed. This is a core chapter out of a monograph preliminarily titled «Germany’s fight against forced migration in the MENA region» which asks why Germany - as the fifth of the worlds’ main countries of asylum (UNHCR 2022) - is not addressing the root causes of forced migration in the MENA region effectively, destpite its claims to do so. The research investigates how a possible gap between a) rhetoric and practice of German foreign policy makers and b) official German policy goals and socio-political realities in MENA countries may occur. By analyzing both foreign policies and their interactions with authoritarian rule, this research is at the intersection of both disciplines, International Relations as well as Comparative Politics. Although this research focuses on Germany, both its research question and the methodology allows for transferrable implications and insights into other cases.
  • In the decade of the so-called ‘European Refugee Crisis’ from 2011 to 2020, Iraqi refugees filed over 200.000 pleas for asylum at the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). At this first contact with the German administration, Iraqi asylum seekers must not only lay out their own identity in oder to obtain a refugee status, but also the circumstances of why they fled Iraq, and why they cannot go back. A third of them has to make their case again at the regional courts, after their initial pleas are rejected. And while these procedures often reveal tragic personal fates, the refugees’ testimonies also offer a unique view on the recent history of Iraq and this specific group of Iraqi emigrants’ idea about their home country.
This project takes an in-depth look at that critical junction, where the identity of individual Iraqis and arguably the history of an entire nation meet the German asylum framework. Utilising a global intellectual history approach to contemporary Iraqi history, as well as the framework of migration studies literature, this project investigates the historical ‘idea of Iraq’ in the testimonies of Iraqi asylum seekers at the Hamburg Administrative Court from 2011 to 2021. Accounting for these refugees’ legal immigration testimonies in historical research not only acknowledges the personal tragedies, but also offers a unique view into Iraq’s troubled past, as they highlight some of the most impactful episodes of the country’s most recent history. The analysis of the anonymised court files is executed along three interconnected core themes: 1) The framings of the refugees’ own identity; 2) the reconstruction of the episodes of violence through the perception of threat and persecution that caused the individual acts of emigration; 3) the framing of the national history of Iraq as its perception as a (failed) nation/state.
The broad argument of the project is that the experience of migration and the encounter with the German bureaucracy uniquely shape the refugees’ idea of Iraq. Investigating the circumstances and motivations of the large scale Iraqi refugee movements through their own accounts thus not only gives the disenfranchised group of Iraqi emigrants a voice in framing their individual predicament and in writing their own national history. A comprehensive understanding on how the refugee experience shapes their idea of Iraq ultimately helps navigate their journey through the immigration and assimilation process.