Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Middle East Section
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Immigration/Migration/Citizenship
Secondary Theme: Inequality
While the news cycle has moved onto other topics, the Middle Eastern refugee crisis continues unabated. Millions of refugees have fled from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan—the three Middle Eastern countries with the longest wars (including two started by the United States), the largest numbers of casualties, and millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance (13.1 million in Syria, 8.7 million in Iraq, and 3.3 million in Afghanistan). According to the United Nations, of the 65.6 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, nearly 12 million are Syrians, including 5.5 million who have fled across international borders to neighboring Middle Eastern countries and to Europe. In contrast, few Syrian refugees have reached the United States. As of 2016, the US had taken in less than 10% of its “fair share” of Syrian refugees. By 2017, Syrian refugee admissions were halted altogether under Executive Order 13769 (the so-called “Muslim ban”). Yet, during 2016 alone, the US military dropped 12,192 bombs on Syria, contributing substantially to this ongoing refugee crisis.
This panel refocuses critical attention on these deadly Middle Eastern wars and the fate of those who have fled them. Facing risky and arduous journeys, Middle Eastern refugees have not always been well received by countries unprepared to take them. Even in presumably “safe” havens, refugees often find themselves trapped in confusing and contradictory webs of immigration policies and asylum laws. Cumbersome bureaucracies have forced refugees into waiting patterns that have prevented them from beginning new lives in host settings. Underfunded and understaffed aid agencies often provide only temporary and inadequate support. As a result, many Middle Eastern refugees have found themselves abandoned and in limbo—facing life in squalid detention centers and refugee camps and succumbing to food insecurity, physical and mental health problems, discrimination and xenophobic violence, and many forms of structural vulnerability.
Focusing on cultural, political, and legal regimes of inclusion and exclusion, this panel seeks to explore in what ways refugees experience and respond to these challenges. This panel contests the notion that Middle Eastern refugees constitute a uniform, bounded category, by showing that specific historical and political contexts matter when explaining whether refugee resettlement is inclusive or exclusionary, life-promoting or oppressive. Through ethnographic studies undertaken in Europe, the US, and the Middle East, presenters in this panel will emphasize the many contingencies and uncertainties that make up day-to-day life for Middle Eastern refugees, as well as the ways in which restrictions are being overcome. What does it mean to be settled/unsettled, rooted/uprooted, welcome/ unwelcome? It is the argument of this panel that modes of inclusion and exclusion coexist and are activated in actual encounters. The presenters on this panel will also reflect upon the role of anthropology and anthropologists in shaping new refugee discourses, ones that unsettle these binaries and humanize the actors involved.