Panel 6B

 Migrant Identity Formation, Agency and Activism

15.00 – 17.00
Chair & Discussant: Filippo Dionigi, London School of Economics & Political Science

To Be Young, Displaced and Syrian: A Case Study of the Activism of Syrian Forced Migrants in Europe

Tasneem Sharkawi, Lancaster University

This paper explores the experiences of young Syrian forced migrants as they engage in self-organized grassroots acts of resistance against the Syrian regime after they have been resettled in Europe. The study examines these acts of dissidence and resistance through the lens of theorizations of performative citizenship (Isin, 2002; Isin & Turner, 2007; Isin & Nielsen, 2008; Isin, 2009;2012; Isin & Saward, 2013) to analyze the rights claims this group of young Syrians make, the sites and scales involved in their activist engagement of citizenship enactment, and the ways they enact themselves as citizens, and others as allies, outsiders, or adversaries. This case study draws on ethnographic and narrative methods from forced migration and refugee studies (Eastmond, 2007) perspectives from multi-sited and mobile ethnography (Marcus, 1995; Andersson, 2015), and digital ethnography (Postill & Pink, 2012; Pink, 2016) to examine empirical research materials participant-observations, series of long intensive interviews conducted with this group of participants, and social media posts and communication in closed groups and open pages related to the activism of this particular group of young forced migrants. The participants are a group of young Syrian refugees and asylum seekers based in Germany. Preliminary findings from analysis of sections from the research materials underline various aspects of their experiences of grassroots organizing and mobilizing in relation to civil society and peace building, the formation of transnational networks of activism, and the ways activism engages with and challenges state sovereignty and reconstructs the Syrian national imagination and national identity.

Breaking Ties: Migration as a Form of Community Resilience

Danya Chudacoff, Proximity International and Saagarika Dadu-Brown, Proximity International

The Yazidis, a small ethnic minority in Iraq, catapulted into the spotlight in August 2014 following ISIL attacks on the community in the Sinjar Mountain. An estimated 5,000 Yazidis were massacred; over 5-7,000 women and children were sold into sexual slavery to ISIL fighters. Despite occurring against the backdrop of the greater Syrian and Iraqi conflicts, the Yazidi community collocates the assault along a wider historical spectrum of ethnic targeting. However, unlike the past, the events of 2014 have resulted in an unprecedented wave of outward migration among the community, whose numbers are estimated at between 300,000 and 700,000 worldwide. Yazidi religious and civil society leaders, including those in the diaspora, have supported this flow, which contrasts sharply with the community’s emphasis on geographic ties to its homeland. This paper will explore the ways in which top-down religious and civil leadership have facilitated a break with Yazidi culture and tradition in the aftermath of the ISIL attacks, including the willingness to depart from its historical homeland, as an act of self-preservation and resilience. The researchers will speak with key sources, including top Yazidi religious clerics, civil society groups like Yazda, and government officials in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

Being Syrian in Australia: Voices, Memories and Organisation of the Australian Syrian Community

Marisa Della Gatta, Macquarie University

In the switch from Australian Racial Policies to “Multicultural Australia”, a first migration wave from Syria to Australia took place in the 1970s. More recently, as an action to tackle the Syrian refugees’ crisis the Australian government accepted 12000 refugees from Syria and Iraq. How is the Syrian Australian Community organized? Has the Syrian conflict with new refugees’ arrivals produced a change in its configuration? I argue that because of the attachment to Syria, the Syrian Australian community is influenced by the recent events in Syria. In particular, the lack of unitary organization is justified by a degree of politicization in Syria-related associations (operating mostly in Sydney and Melbourne) reflecting internal disputes of Syria. For being a diaspora setting, the Australian multicultural social structure plays a role in simplifying the political debate and further segmenting people with Syrian descent. In other words, both the Australian social mosaic and the war in Syria have reshaped the Syrian social mosaic in Australia.In order to understand the impact of the two, this paper investigates in parallel the context and culture of the Australian multicultural host-society and the pluralism of the Syrian home-country. The Syrian Australian community offers an interesting form of convergence and re-negotiation between the two. I will include the results of 10 interviews with representatives of Syrian Australian Associations with different ethno-religious backgrounds. A multi-faceted mirror-image of Syria will emerge from the Australian section of the Syrian diaspora, which ultimately confirms a multi-layered Syrian identity.

Download Paper (Della Gatta)