This Refugees and Migrants Project (RAMP) page is designed to encourage us to re-think how we conceive the movement of people, within and between states, in the twenty-first century. The temporal emphasis highlights that refugees and migrants, by definition, can only exist in a world defined by state sovereignty over borders, borders that allow some to pass and others not, which congealed only 150 years ago.[i] RAMP seeks to use a multi-disciplinary approach to examine a range of issues including law, citizenship, borders, rights, politics, cities, the arts, and history. The purpose of this initiative is to encourage the development of literature on refugees and migrants that includes them not merely as objects of study but as subjects defining their lives. Doing so seeks to enhance our understanding of the local and global structures that make up our lives, our advocacy for refugee and migrant rights, the development of better policies, and our ability to reframe narratives about refugees away from seeing them as crises, burdens, or problems.
Our primary focus is on populations from, as well as migrants and displaced people living in, the cities and regions of the Middle East and North Africa, although RAMP will stray outside those artificial borders. UNHCR lists over seventy-one million people as “Persons of Concern” which includes twenty million refugees, forty million internally displaced persons (IDPs), five million returnees, and three million each of stateless and asylum seekers. The Middle East and North Africa host 16.7 million of that population, but refugees from the Middle East and North Africa also contribute to the count of persons of concern in Africa (twenty-four million) and Europe (eleven million) and beyond.[ii] Add to this the global figure of international migrations, estimated at 258 million, with 146 million (fifty-seven percent) living in the global North (what the United Nations calls “developed countries”) among whom thirty-nine percent were also born in the global North. The remaining ninety-seven million (forty-three percent of the global total of migrants) live in the global South (“developing countries”) and eighty-seven percent originate from the global South.[iii]
These kinds of numbers define the twenty-first century as one characterized by more people on the move than the world has ever seen before. They are faced with increasingly more rigid borders, legal regimes, police violence, the threat of violence, and technologically sophisticated surveillance. These border politics, particularly in the global North but also in the Middle East and North Africa, are putting in place more barriers and constraints on population movements, including restricting legal means like asylum and naturalization policies. In many cases, these migration control policies parallel the growth of populist, anti-immigrant (whether refugees or migrants) political movements. While more people are on the move today, it is also harder and more challenging, in time and resources, for them to move than ever before. To move legally, a whole process of attaining visa, sponsor, interviews, refugee status, vetting, more interviews, are required to obtain permission to exit one border and enter another. The “illegal traveler” on the other hand, as Shahram Khosravi states it, is “in a space of lawlessness, outside the protection of the law” and is what defines modern border politics.[iv]
In addition, the refugee crisis is foremost an urban crisis, significantly and rapidly transforming cities and regions. The complexity of these transformations is often obfuscated by studies focusing exclusively on the camp as a typology, ignoring that most refugees are living today in cities and towns, reshaping neighborhoods, streets, dwellings, urban service provision, infrastructures, as well as local urban governance structures.
Our concern thus addresses the phenomenon of population movements, emergent policies, as well as humanitarian aid practices and policies toward refugees and migrants, legal and not. Most importantly, RAMP seeks to re-center the narrative about refugees and migrants onto the impacted communities thus disrupting their characterization as “crises” or “problems.” Instead, we will focus on their rights and contributions; we will highlight how their challenges inform the adequacy of the state and international norms, and we will document the conditions that create their situations. We also focus on documenting the various strategies and tactics displaced people use to access housing, urban services, jobs, and leisure in cities, towns, and regions, against multiple odds. We welcome the perspectives of activists, affected communities and/or individuals, anthropologists, historians, economists, lawyers, journalists, aid workers, sociologists, urban planners, and policymakers.
RAMP integrates history, culture, agency, respect, security, power relations, borders, space, etc., in analysis, policy, and/or advocacy for refugee and migrant populations. We will do so without reifying “culture” or “tradition,” romanticizing refugeeness and poverty, and without empowering certain elements of society or political movements at the expense of others, nor reducing situations to one explanatory factor (such as ethnicity, religion, politics, environment). Instead, we will encourage research that interrogates the roles of governments and institutions in dealing with displaced persons and migrants, as well as the roles of assistance and aid organizations, and their experts. We will also examine what kinds of information are produced around refugees and migrants, by whom and to what ends is it used. We will also prioritize contributions that give voice to various profiles of displaced people, and reveal how they actually navigate legal constraints in their everyday lives, how they manage ways to dwell, work and live in the city, and how they negotiate, circumvent and/or contest the challenges they face.
Some questions RAMP will consider include, how can a more holistic perspective (for lack of a better word) that takes into consideration history, culture, agency, respect, security, power relations, borders, be made part of analysis, policy, and/or advocacy for refugee and migrant populations? And how is that done that without reifying “culture” or “tradition” or without empowering certain elements of society or political movements at the expense of others or of reducing situations to one explanatory factor (such as ethnicity, or religion, or politics, or environment)? What are the roles of governments in dealing with displaced persons and migrants? What are the roles of assistance and aid organizations? What are the roles of the displaced people themselves? What kinds of information is produced around refugees and migrants and by whom and to what ends is it used?
In launching this page, the Refugees and Migrants Page Editors present the following articles and resources:
- Iraqi IDP Returns to Former ISIS-Held Areas: Findings from a Longitudinal Study on Durable Solutions
- Catherine Besteman, Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine (New Texts Out Now)
- Teach-In on Global Migrations and Refugees: the United States and the Middle East (Video)
- Mona Fawaz, Ahmad Gharbieh, Mona Harb, and Dounia Salamé; Refugees as City-Makers (New Texts Out Now)
- Refugees and Migrants Media Roundup (1 October 2018)
- UNRWA and Palestinian Refugees Under Attack: When Politics Trump Law and History
- NEWTON Bouquet, "Refugees and Migrants in the Middle East" (September 2018)
We hope you find the elements of this launch, as well as the mission and future production of this page, to be a critical resource in studying, discussing, and untangling the topic of refugees and migrants in and from the Middle East and North Africa.
[i] Michael Barnett. “Humanitarianism with a Sovereign Face: UNHCR in the Global Undertow,” International Migration Review, Volume 35 Number 1 (Spring 2001) 251.
[iii] United Nations International Migration Report (2017), 1.
[iv] Shahram Khosravi. ‘Illegal’ Traveller: An Auto-Ethnography of Borders, (Palgrave, 2010), 27.