Panel 4J

Who To Be in Exile? Perspectives on Refugee Identity

9.00 – 11.00
Chair: Ivan Panovic, Nanyang Technological University

‘Rebuilding the Ship at Sea’: Religion and Migration in a Syrian Refugee-Context

Ingrid Løland, VID Specialized University

There appears to be an indisputable link between religion and migration: when people are on the move, so is religion. It is operating across borders and negotiated across time and space. What takes place when people are forcibly displaced from a given cultural and religious context and settle into another, reflects complicated processes involving a range of different crossings and identity (trans)formations. The war in Syria has produced the largest refugee crisis in our time. The nature of the brutal conflict, the intersection of religion, conflict and ethnic identity politics, the mere size of the refugee exodus – all these issues and more, are entangled within the personal stories that Syrian refugees recount. Stories revealing both deeply individual differences as well as shared collective experiences.  As boundaries are constantly regulating migrant’s lives, migrants are forced to improvise, negotiate and navigate in new and ambiguous terrains – a process the anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen has described as a “task of rebuilding the ship at sea” (2010:12). How do migrants cope with the uncertainties of the in-between? And what is the role of religion in the journey of migration? In this paper we shall take a closer look at how Syrian refugees narrate the changes and continuities of their religious identifications through conflict and migratory experiences. The study is based on narrative interviews and focus group discussions conducted among Syrian Christian and Muslim refugees residing in Norway.

Who (Not) to Be in a Refugee Crisis? A State of the Art Literature Review on Refugee Identity Formation in the Context of the Current Refugee ‘Crisis’

Willemijn Dortant, Erasmus University Rotterdam

The refugee ‘crisis’ challenges (Dutch) local municipalities to host a sizeable community of (predominantly) Syrian refugees. Stigmatizing characterizations of ‘the refugee’ complicate both efficient care-taking and interaction with the host-society. This paper aims to substantiate the necessity of short-term ethnographic fieldwork on refugee identity formation. Beyond its theoretical interest to extend current knowledge about ‘mediatized’ realities, it aims to improve refugees’ integration within the new cultural context. The first part of this paper (Section A.) illustrates how the concept of refugee identity formation has developed over time. Currently, its understanding encompasses both transitional and discursive theories, moreover recognizing concept’s relatedness to bridging- and bonding ties. Still, the relative importance of roots and routes (Platts-Flower & Robinson, 2015) to refugees’ cultural redefinition remains ambiguous. Moreover, the effects of world-wide digital disclosure on refugees’ social reality lack sufficient consideration. Therefore, this study urges for an exploration of mediatized influences on refugees’ lived experiences, by conducting ‘go-along’ communication-ethnographic research amongst institutionalized refugees. Section B. reports on a pilot-inquiry aiming to sensitize the proposed research design to the refugee-perspective. Its preliminary results support that ‘mediatized’ experiences influence the reconciliation of past (trauma) and present (procedural stress) experiences in a post-refuge identity. Contrasting the protectionist signature of current refugee-assistance, this paper emphasizes refugees should be encouraged in their self-development, and facilitated to interact beyond the intra-mural community.

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‘Visual Pollution’ of Istanbul – A Geosemiotics of Displacement

Ivan Panovic, Nanyang Technological University

In this paper, I discuss the dynamics of the on-going sociolinguistic and socio-demographic transformation in Istanbul that has been triggered by the civil war in Syria. I particularly focus on the linguistic landscaping of two parts of town, Aksaray and Beyo?lu, where numerous examples of the publicly visible written Arabic have become prominent on various establishments and walls due to the increased presence of Arab tourists, who voluntarily come and go, and Syrian refugees, who are there to stay. Combining ethnographic and geosemiotics approaches, I analyze an extensive photographic collection of the linguistic landscape of these two quarters, and draw on interviews which I conducted with Syrian refugees working in these areas and ordinary Turks whose reactions and attitudes to this change have been elicited. A broader context is provided by clippings from the Turkish media on “Arabs in Turkey” and the status and acceptability of Arabic in public spaces. I highlight several literacy-as-social-practice issues and discuss ways in which Arabs inscribe their presence and identities in Istanbul, the discursive elaboration of this presence, resentment to it, and socio-cultural tensions which this increasing “Arabisation” of Istanbul entails.

“Your Name is ‘Refugee’”: Migrants’ Journey Narratives and the Challenge to the International Refugee Regime

Hamza Safouane, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech)

The purpose of this article is to contribute to increasing the ‘knowability’ of refugees and asylum seekers in a context where the international refugee regime, national migration policies, and general attitudes toward migrants largely ignore or misunderstand their motives, aspirations, and the overall migratory process. Using oral history, this paper explores the migratory journey processes underwent by seventeen asylum seekers and refugees living in Germany at the time of the interviews. The focus on the journey is justified by its transformative power upon the identities of the migrants. Study findings from the collected journey narratives reveal reconstructed identities that are deeply at odds with the definition of the refugee found in the 1951 Refugee Convention. References to the Convention and forced flight from persecution are seldom present in the interviews, which usually voice claims to resume life in a more favourable environment. Conversely, the journey process, which often also includes attempts to settle in Germany, is perceived as an ordeal that is saturated with extreme risks and violence, but that remains a choice that is carefully calculated and planned. Rather than being a mere flight into safety, the imminent dangers and constraints of the migratory journey led the respondents to deploy mobility tactics that defy the expected linear movement away from danger into safe haven. Eventually, the journey itself becomes for most respondents a source of legitimacy into obtaining residence in Germany.

A Bio-Cartography of Refugee Fatherhood: Humanitarian Illusions of Compassion and Suffering

Redha Qabazard, Yale University

In this paper, I use Michel Foucault’s theories on bio-power and governmentality to make sense of the international humanitarian system. With the predicted collapse of traditional models of political membership and representation (Benhabib), looked to national as well as territorial rights to sovereignty, the refugees in today’s humanitarianism have experienced “protracted uncertainty’, ‘poverty traps’, ‘low cooperative behavior’ and ‘loss of hope’ quickly ensued in social and economic life. What is the nature of this “exclusion of people” into permanent human “uncertainty”, social and economic hardship, and “loss of hope”? How do different thinkers in the classical and modern collection of political theory conceptualize “human faculty” of reason, as inherent biological and social property of humanity? These are the questions I hope to answer through this ethnographic study of refugee fathers living in Lebanon. However, ethnography is principally “an experience” which involves what Didier Fassin calls the “entry of him as a ‘critic’” into this societal order, a system, to describe whatever the history and the present of the society, ecology, anthropology and the psychology the critic observes or stories in memory.

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