Panel 5B

A Life Abroad? Social Practices and Experiences of Migrants and Refugees in the Arab World

11.30 – 13.30
Chair: Tobias Boos, University of Mainz
Discussant: Fouad Gehad Marei, Freie Universität, Berlin

“We are not Refugees!’ – Identity and Belonging of the Syrian and Palestinian Refugee Students in Emirati Universities

Ala Al-Hamarneh, University of Mainz

“Do we look like refugees?” is the standard reply given by Syrian and Palestinian students studying in the UAE when their status is questioned. In this context, they refer to the issue of wealth and material consumption; the ability to enjoy a high standard of living. The refugee status is connected to misery and poverty rather than to politics, wars, legal status and citizenship.  “We are Arab expats, like all the others here” is the argument given. Indeed, in a country with 85-90% non-nationals, and with a very high economic standard of living, the Palestinian and Syrian students belong to middle and upper-middle classes of Arab communities in the UAE. While many Palestinian students are holders of refugee travel documents and are officially “stateless”, which means that they are recognized as refugees by international law, the Syrian students keep strong ties with Syria and many of them  travel continually  back and forth to the country. Being a refugee is perceived as poverty economically by the middle and upper classes. The paper aims to outline the perception of the Syrian and Palestinian refugees by the members of their own communities and to explore the economic and political power relations within the refugee/migrant communities. My paper is part of an on-going research on students’ mobility and the political economy of higher education in the GCC states. It is based on field work done in the last three years as well as on my experiences as visiting professor in the University of Sharjah.

Combating the Corrosive Effect of Conflict on Education for Refugees and IDPs

Shelley Deane, Mitchell Institute, Queens University Belfast, Director Brehon Advisory

In May 2016, the first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul addressed the fact that 125 million people are affected by protracted conflicts and emergencies, the highest level of human suffering since World War II. Existing education provision for people in crisis is unable to fully meet the needs of the people it seeks to help, principally refugees and migrants, and those who find themselves in complex and protracted emergencies, particularly in the Middle East. Rather than simply assisting people in need, the current paradigm of emergency education aid provision can have a corrosive impact and a contagion effect on education provision in crisis affected neighboring states. Often misdirected and misplaced, international education initiatives persist in seeking to replicate, and even replace, existing effective and resilient local education frameworks and mechanisms to the detriment of both beneficiaries and donors. As a result, the current education system is increasingly inaccessible to the people most affected by conflict, critically in crises where timely access to the right knowledge becomes a matter of life and death. This paper seeks to address the following questions.With education concerns in mind: How can academia contribute to improving education provision for those in crisis in the Middle East? How can academics actively help to support refugees and IDPs at the heart of the education crisis? Rethinking a global education architecture requires global commitment. We can however, begin to reshape education action by thinking and acting locally and regionally. In order to understand the local context, the education sector can begin by doing things differently.

Race, Gender and Refugees – The Case of Female Sudanese and Syrian Refugees in Egypt

Gihan Abouzeid, OECD and Salemah for Women Empowerment (Cairo)

Sudanese migrants and refugees in Egypt have experienced racism and social exclusion for the last few years. Discriminatory practices are far-reaching in economically disadvantaged areas which host the majority of the Sudanese community in Egypt. Sudanese refugees are racially discriminated against and are victims of violence and blackmailing. Racial and gender-based violence against women is particularly prevalent against Sudanese women and is manifested in verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. On the other hand, with the influx of Syrian refugees another form of discrimination has become evident. Due to their lighter skin colour, Syrian women are fetishized; a practice that has compelled parents to take their daughters out of school due to the harassment they experience. This has been accompanied by the rise of marriage proposals made to teenage Syrian girls by Egyptian men. Women from the Sudanese and Syrian migrant and refugee populations both experience forms of gender-based violence. The lack of protection afforded to these women further increases the vulnerabilities felt and experienced by them. In this case, the difference of skin colour manifests different forms of violence where Sudanese women experience verbal and physical violence while Syrian women experience harassment for their fetishized white skin. This study aims to present patterns of gender-based violence experienced by female refugees in Egypt and the channels and mechanisms of protection made available to them. The study is based on field research done in 2015 and 2016.

“I Try to be a Refugee, but I Can’t”: Unsettled Identities and the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Program

Christopher Kyriakides, York University

This paper is drawn from an on-going 5-year study of the reception of Syrian refugees in 5 countries – Canada, the US, Jordan, Greece and Italy. The presentation will focus specifically on preliminary results from a study of the effectiveness of Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program as a tool for the resettlement of Syrian refugees. Private sponsor groups typically consist of a group of individuals who take it upon themselves to raise monies for the resettlement of a refugee family in Canada and for providing ‘integrative’ support for 12 months, after which time it is expected that refugees will be self-sufficient. In-depth one-to-one interviews with 25 ‘sponsored’ Syrian refugees and 15 focus group interviews with Canadian private sponsor groups carried out in 2016-17 reveals how language barriers and the absence of knowledge ‘of the other’ can produce an expectations gap on both ‘sides’ which affects the degree of autonomy accorded to refugees in the act of resettlement, and reduces the effectiveness of sponsorship. The search for and denial of autonomy and personhood are pivotal and underscore  what can become an unsettling  ‘sponsored’ versus ‘sponsoring’ identity dynamic between refugees and sponsors which negatively affects all concerned.  The presentation will argue that successful resettlement requires policy mechanisms which facilitate and enhance the generation of mutual and reciprocal knowledge between ‘sponsor’ and ‘sponsored’; that such mechanisms should be provided even prior to refugee arrival; and should be an on-going  feature in the ‘host’ destination.