(Un)Settling Middle Eastern Refugees

Marcia C. Inhorn, CMES Chair and William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs, addresses conference attendees.
Friday, October 4, 2019

From September 27-29 Marcia C. Inhorn, CMES Chair and William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs, hosted the international conference-workshop “(Un)Settling Middle Eastern Refugees: Regimes of Inclusion and Exclusion in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States.” With support from the Department of Anthropology, the Edward J. and Dorothy Clark Kempf Memorial Fund, a US Department of Education Title VI NRC Grant, and the Program on Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Humanitarian Response, the conference brought together for the first time anthropologists who work with Middle Eastern refugee populations and who are examining the cultural, political, and legal regimes of refugee inclusion and exclusion, particularly in Europe and the United States, but also in the Middle Eastern countries where the majority of refugees have fled.

The conference, co-chaired by Prof. Lucia Volk of San Francisco State University, sought to shed light on the experience of recent and long-term refugee displacement across and beyond the Middle East in order to understand how war has affected refugees’ lives and how resettlement in other countries has unfolded. 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 have often found themselves trapped in confusing and contradictory webs of immigration policies and asylum laws. Cumbersome bureaucracies and exclusionary politics 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. And increasingly conservative political regimes in many countries have fueled anti-refugee xenophobia, Islamophobia, and outright exclusion. 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. The conference explored in what ways refugees experience and respond to these challenges.

The presentations at (Un)Settling fell under the following eight themes: Who Counts as a Refugee?, Mobility, Refugee Humanitarianism, Legal and Bureaucratic Challenges, War Legacies, Refugee Healthcare, Care and Caregiving among Refugee Populations, and Resilience and Activism. Divided into five parts, the panels looked specifically at cases from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Mixed Refugee Settings. For the panel on Syria, Lucia Volk (San Francisco State University) presented “Demanding their Welcome: Agency-in- Waiting at a Protest Camp in Dortmund;” Emilie Lund Mortensen (University of Aarhus, Denmark): “Taking Good Care: Negotiations of Intimate Relations Among Displaced Syrian Men and Their Loved Ones in Amman;” Catherine Panter-Brick (Yale): “Inclusive Partnerships for Humanitarian Action: Syrian Refugees in Jordan;” Rachel Farell (Yale): “Syrian Refugees in France: Navigating Mental Healthcare, Stigma, and Social Exclusion;” Morgen Chalmiers (UC San Diego): “Responsible Mothers, Good Patients, and Grateful Refugees: Structural Vulnerability and the Impossibility of Compliance for Syrians in San Diego, California.” 

For the panel on Iraq, Kali Rubali (UC Davis) presented “The Transhumant Iraqi Refugee: What Kind of Movement Counts as ‘Refugee Movement’?;” Marcia Inhorn (Yale): “American’s Wars and the Iraqis’ Lives: Refugee Vulnerabilities and Regimes of Exclusion in the United States;” Brittany Dawson (University of Chicago): “Between Sacrifice and Hope: Chaldean Resettlement Little Baghad, CA”.

The Afghanistan panel welcomed Naysan Adlparvar’s (Yale) presentation “Forced Migration, Forced Return: The (Un)settlement of Displaced Hazaras in Iran and Afghanistan;” Julie Nynne Bune (Aarhus University, Denmark) “Precarious Futures: Participatory Theater as Embodied Storytelling among Young Afghan Refugees in Denmark;” Andrea Chiovenda (Harvard) “Injury by Time: Psychic Suffering and the Politics of Temporality among Afghan Asylum Seekers in Greece;” Melissa Kerr Chiovenda (Zayenda University, UAE): “Fear, Pain, and Joy: Emotional Geographies of Refugees from Afghanistan to Athens.”

The Palestine panel saw Gustavo Barbosa (Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil) present “Unsettling ‘Refugees’ as a Category: Labelling, Imagined, Populations and Statistics in a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Beirut;” Michael Vicente Perez (University of Memphis): “Everyday Living and the Struggle for Refuge among Gaa Refugees in Jordan;” Khaldun Bshara (Riwaq Center for Architecture Conservation, Palestine): “A Death Sentence: UNRWA in the Trump Era.”

Finally, the Mixed Refugees Settings panel heard from Zareena Grewal (Yale): “Refugee Solidarity and Resistance to Detention and Deterrence in Greece;” Ardis Kristin Ingvars (University of Iceland): “Calibrated Masculinities: Educational Aspirations, Activism and Caring among Middle Eastern Refugee Men in Greece;” Lindsay A. Gifford (USF): “Structural Contradictions of Middle Eastern Refugee Resettlement in Finland;” Verena Kozmann (University of Vienna): “Valuing Health, Negotiating Paradoxes? Medicalization of Hymen, Hymenoplasty, and Syrian and Iraqi Women’s Health in Ontario.”

The work presented generated lively discussion during the Friday public presentations as audience members noted the importance of holding a conversation around this timely issue that is impacting the globe. Participants continued investigating themes of refugee inclusion and exclusion during the Saturday-Sunday workshop devoted to preparing their papers for publication.