By: Amanda Jarrett
The world is experiencing the highest number of refugees since World War II. As of 2012 statistics, 45 million refugees that are from the Middle East and North Africa. Fifty-five percent of those refugees originate from Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria. Since 2012, the number of refugees within and from Syria has vastly grown. In this paper, there will be an exploration of how the term refugee came to be defined, the recent history of how international refugee law came to be, and the application of these laws to autonomous states. After providing this background, there will be a case study of Syria. In the case of Syria, there will be a discussion of their history of and with migration, the results of the Arab Spring, and where their refugees are now. Additionally, observing Syrian refugee narratives will help to further understand the complicated relationship refugees have with the state and how the international community reacts to them. Lastly, Tazzioli’s concept of ‘spaces of governmentality’ and the strugglefield will be a source of analysis for the complex conceptual and physical space between states and refugees.
In the scholarly world, a debate has rung out about whether or not globalization is the main cause of the world’s influx of refugees. With globalization, the conceptual concreteness of borders has started to blur and distinctions between cultures are becoming less and less prominent. With the cross-fertilization of cultures and identities, globalization has negatively impacted the way that states are able to control their borders. Due to this level of interconnectedness, the state’s standards of identification no longer apply in the traditional sense. “Migrants and refugees challenge the role that national identity often plays in determining agency, suggesting that there is a fundamental flaw in how governments and agencies often construct identities while providing protection and assistance.” Refugees are challenging the conceptual foundations of what qualifies a state as a state. They challenge a state’s territorial control, their autonomy, and their national identity. By doing so, they cause a disturbance in the international state system which aggravates the states themselves. Globalization has hence escalated the amount of tension in the strugglefield between individuals and the spaces of government.
However, the process of globalization would be a convenient excuse for the world’s long-awaited realities that have been developing over the last century. The involvement of the French and British after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the mandate system contributes to several disputes within the region, such as the establishment of the state of Israel. After the end of World War II, the significant portion of the Jewish population wanted their own state in the Holy Land. When Europe deemed the Palestinian territory as the new state of Israel in 1948, millions of Palestinians were forced from their homes and became refugees. This was a major test of regional governance and set the course for how states would interact with the refugee regime.
Over two-thirds of the existing Palestinian population flooded the neighboring states, each of whom went about their own way of handling the hundreds of thousands of displaced people within their borders. Jordan exercised an open-door policy and granted citizenship to most Palestinians after 1948, but in 1988 they opted for more restrictive policies. As for Lebanon, they did not grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees, viewing them as a threat to their “confessional balance and that the right of return ought to be safe-guarded.” About 100,000 Palestinians entered into their borders and their 15 refugee camps. These camps were not run by the state of Lebanon, but were instead operated by United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on leased land. Up until the 1960s, Palestinians still have no legal provisions as refugees and were still being referred to as foreigners in Lebanon. Palestinian refugees did not have access to the benefits of being a citizen, including work, higher education, health care, or voting rights. Palestinian refugees were barred from accessing civil, social and political rights beyond what was secured by the UNWRA. This ‘foreign’ status of Palestinian refugees within their host country stressed the temporary nature of their stay. With the uniqueness of the Palestinian case and multi-level governance, there was an ineffective nature that came from the establishment of different international organizations within the refugee regime that made it difficult for states to adhere to their advocacy. After the 1951 Refugee Convention, Arab states began portraying refugees as an impediment to their stability and therefore began rejecting the refugee regime.
As of 2009, there are 4.6 million Palestinian refugees. Of those, 2.8 million reside in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The Palestinian refugees who live in Syria are not considered citizens but have access to social rights. In Lebanon, 417,000 Palestinians were excluded from the social security system and were not allowed to practice over 70 different professions until the UNRWA stepped in. Lastly, Jordan hosts the majority of Palestinian refugees, numbering at about 2 million. In Jordan, they have access to full citizenship, except for those who arrived from the Gaza Strip. Those from the Gaza Strip are restricted in their access to civil services and higher education due to the geopolitics of the region.
Overall, globalization has been a catalyst for the inevitable. The involvements by the international community and spaces in governmentality have affected how Middle Eastern states handle policies and attitudes towards refugees. Globalization has allowed for the economic and political inequalities within the region to heighten, triggering the Arab Spring which sent a ripple of protests and revolts that were caused by deeper circumstances such as oil, lack of civil societies, and regime types. Furthermore, globalization is not a condition of modernity, nor is mass displacement.
The term ‘refugié’ was first used in 1685 to describe a group of Protestants fleeing from religious persecution. It was not until the year 1796 that the word ‘refugee’ was officially added to the English language and defined as any individual who fled their country of origin “in times of distress.” Though, some Middle Eastern states can have their own definition of a refugee or foreigner and thus making it difficult to come up with a universally agreed upon definition. As for the Arabic term, Bidoon is used to describe someone who is stateless or ‘without citizenship.’ Since the acceptance of the term into the English language, especially after World War II, the definition of a refugee has changed significantly. For the purpose of this paper, a refugee is defined as an individual who has left their country of origin “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,’” ethnicity or culture. This definition is based on the one provided by the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, it is important to mention that this definition is also based on the universal theory of human rights, which mainly focuses on civil and political rights. By doing so, it forgets the importance of social and cultural rights, which have been significant facets in how the modern refugee regime addresses and understands refugees. Additionally, the term ‘refugee’ includes internally displaced persons, refugees, and asylum seekers. Finally, the term refugee regime refers to any international organization or law whose purpose is to address and ensure the rights of refugees, which inherently includes the discussion of natural and human rights. Natural rights refer to the basic necessities and securities while human rights integrate difference aspects of governmentality such as the civil, political, and social spheres.
1.2 Discourses and Methodology
Throughout this paper, there are a few important discourses that will be applied to the conditions of the state and their relationship with individuals. The refugee discourse in the Middle East has not been entirely supportive of refugees in the past. Due to conflicts between states, negative representations and treatment of refugees within their host states, and the lack of access to rights all demonstrate how the refugee regime has been inadequate in assisting all refugees and working with individual states on improving their policies.
‘Spaces of governmentality’ is a discourse that Tazzioli uses to help demonstrate the limited spaces in which states operate in. She defines ‘spaces of governmentality’ as “contested sites of movements, politics, governmental interventions and struggles: spaces that often do not coincide with geopolitical borders and that, rather, are the outcome of the emergence of a series of events, subjects, and movements as a ‘problem.’” The spaces demonstrate the challenges that state authority have when it has to deal with an actor that is free-flowing and uncontrolled by the individual state. Though, in terms of defining ‘governmentality,’ it mainly refers to the framework of conceptual and legal power that the state exercises and their resistance to actors that challenge said power. For the purpose of this paper, ‘spaces of governmentality’ will be referred to as the conceptual space where laws fall short in terms of properly addressing migration and providing rights to refugees.
This is where there is a misconnection between the lives of refugees, policies, and technique of states and their borders. This specific conceptual space of governmentality is referred to as the ‘strugglefield.’ Tazzioli uses the strugglefield to highlight the political nature of the migration regime due to its reliance of the governed spaces that are outlined by borders. Since the strugglefield is inherently political, legality should also be applied. Though this is not always the case due to the purposeful distinction between citizens and non-citizens of the state. Therefore, the strugglefield demonstrates the different positioning that refugees have within the space. “This calls into question the ‘outside’ position usually attributed in critical literature to undocumented migrants who try to disrupt and stretch the borders of the ‘inside’—the political space of citizenship—as if they could be outside of any economic-political relation to power.” The strugglefield observes refugees who are positioned on the outside of the sphere of citizenship, and thus, are considered separate from the citizens of that state. The state may consider these refugees on the inside as non-citizens as well and do not provide the rights and privileges of citizens, even though they are within the realm of the state’s governmentality. Neither of these positions, outside or inside, can be isolated from the economic and political relations of power of the state. Thus, this creates the inherent tension within the strugglefield and further complicating the matter. For this paper, the term strugglefield will be defined the way that Tazzioli it. It will help demonstrate the physical space of refugees traveling between states, the legal space between the rights promised to them by the refugee regime and what is actually provided to them in their host state, and the conceptual space in relation to the governmentality of the state.
Another discourse that will be used to understand the specific representations and understanding of refugees by the international community and Middle Eastern states is ‘Othering.’ This discourse has been developing over several centuries, linking itself to imperialism and knowledge production. In its application, ‘Othering’ allows for one to position themselves above another in order to allow themselves to have a greater amount of power and control over the ‘Other.’ This can be seen in the current representations and stereotyping of refugees throughout the world, including Syrian refugees. ‘Othering’ is a frequently used methodology that places refugees as the enemy of the state and perpetuates national fears.
2. Legality of the International Refugee Regime
2.1 Origins of the International Refugee Regime
The first international refugee organization was established in 1921 as the High Commissioner on Behalf of the League (of Nations). Its original goal was to assist with the mass influx of Russian and Armenian refugees and providing them rights within their host countries. The organization was mainly focused on the legal and political aspects of refugee rights and less so on the humanitarian aspects of it.
Before World War II, there was not much to the refugee regime. It was only after the war and the fall of certain European empires it really began to flourish. The term refugee truly began to gain traction and major international attention. The most memorable act by the refugee regime was providing Zionist Jews the land of the Palestinians and establishing the state of Israel in 1948. After this occurred, a large portion of the Palestinian population suddenly became refugees. This was when it became evident that the refugee regime was underdeveloped and lacked international authority within the region.
“In a context of weak regionalism, migration governance has not stemmed from a concerted inter-governmental perspective. In fact, it suffers from a lack of understanding that centres on institutionalised and rights-based approaches, while remaining intermeshed in relations of geopolitics, and forms of governance where the boundaries between formal and informal practices have become blurred.”
There was an understanding that there needed to be an improvement of the relationship between the refugee regime and the states in terms of having a basis for rights. With the first formation of international refugee laws occurred at the 1951 Refugee Convention, the new definition of a refugee was coined (Article 1A). Moreover, in Article 33, there is the important concept of refoulement. This means that a state cannot refuse entry to a refugee whose life or freedom is being threatened. Initially, the definition and rights of a refugee only applied to those who were displaced in Europe and not the rest of the world. It was not until the 1967 Protocol that individuals who would have fit the definition of a refugee outside of Europe obtained the rights that were established at the 1951 convention. In terms of signatories, Turkey is a signatory to both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan did not sign to either the convention or the protocol.
After World War II, there was a shift in what it meant to be a refugee. Instead of being defined politically and legally, refugees began being defined by their humanitarian needs. When it came to refugees, the focus shifted away from the various forms of prosecution and began to regard the generalities of human rights violations. The perception of them changed in the eyes of the state. Refugees were being treated as a burden on the international system. To reflect the change in administrative focus, the original international refugee organization underwent a series of gradual name changes, eventually becoming what is known today as the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR).
As stated previously, Lebanon decided to shift from its open-door policy to a more restrictive policy. Since Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan are not signatories, they work outside of the established international refugee regime and are not held to the standards and obligations of those who were signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Without the refugee regime having access to the governmentality of these states, the strugglefield is intensified due to a further lack of migration governance.
2.2 ‘Right to Have Rights’ and Accessibility of Rights to Refugees
In order to understand the scope of the ‘right to have rights’ discussion that will occur, the RSI framework allows for an identification of the different aspects of rights refugees should have access to. RSI stands for rights, security, and identity. As aforementioned, the universal declaration of human rights pertains to political and civil rights, which include “the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, and necessary social services.” Identity also comes into play with its relation to a refugee’s security. Often refugees are fleeing their home country due to fear of prosecution for some aspect of their identity, whether that be ethnicity, race, gender, religion and et cetera. Refugees have the right to their own principal self and collective identities, which can be lost in transit to their host country and/ or upon arrival in a refugee camp. Identity speaks to a refugee’s humanity, though “to have their humanity recognised requires political membership and belonging.” This political membership and belonging is thus instituted and sustained by the security of the state, which then enhance and protect the essential freedoms that can only be accessed through the ‘right to have rights.’
For a refugee to access their ‘right to rights,’ they need the interconnectedness of the RSI framework to trickle from the enforcement of safety on the state’s level to reach their basic access to entry, human rights, and protection of identity. Though, if one aspect of the RSI is not being fulfilled, either by the state or the individual, then this too increases the difficulty of overcoming the strugglefield. This then causes “human rights violations or deficient mechanisms of human rights protection [which] result in enhanced insecurity for refugee populations.” Lastly, since the strugglefield negatively impacts the power of state autonomy and international coordination, it is agreed upon by the international community that there needs to be an adjustment to the norms and practices of the refugee regime in order to provide better access to rights, thus demonstrating the tensions within the strugglefield. Though, there is not a consensus on what exactly needs to be done and there will be states that will implement mechanisms to deny rights to refugees.
With the declaration of universal human rights, the international community took action to ensure rights to those who were not initially promised rights by the refugee regime. Unfortunately, this agreement of providing universal rights to all individuals is not enough. The norms and standards are in place, but the practices are not. With UNHCR shifting focus from a political and legal stand point to a humanitarian focus is due in part to their lack of capability to enforce the laws of the refugee regime. Due to state autonomy, an international organization cannot guarantee that a state will abide by its laws as the international refugee regime cannot coerce the accountability of the state. Before the Cold War, refugees were once perceived as assets to their host countries, but in post-Cold War era there has been a shift in perspective. Refugees are seen as problems that the host state now has to deal with. Therefore, states that have come up with mechanisms that allow them to refuse refugees entry into their territory.
Bell and Hirsch addresses this disconnect between having rights written into law and the accessibility of these rights to refugees, norms versus practices. They start off by stating the difference between natural and human rights. Natural rights pertain to the basic rights of human necessity such as food, water, and shelter. Human rights, as stated previously, relates to an individual’s political and civil rights—access to territory, safety, and freedom—which are directly related to the state’s ability to provide. Their discussion of the ‘right to have rights’ was triggered by states failing to meet these standards and demonstrating the strugglefield. “Without being able to enter a state capable of securing their claims to safety and dignity, refugees cannot achieve the rights which ought to be afforded to them under international law.” Under international law, refugees have every right to enter and access the territory of a state, but without being able to enter the state they cannot claim what is rightfully theirs—safety. When this tension in the strugglefield occurs, it leaves refugees defenseless, stateless, and demoralized. This is where this space of governmentality demonstrates its lack of physical and legal provisions for refugees. “Without the protection of a state, ‘it turned out that the moment human beings lacked their own government and had to fall back upon their minimum rights, no authority was left to protect them and no institution was willing to guarantee them.’” States are not required to grant asylum, but they are required to grant entry.
In summary, the RSI framework discusses the importance of identity, security, and rights to the quality of life that a refugee could have. With the ‘right to have rights,’ refugees have to battle within the strugglefield to gain access to their guaranteed rights. These rights extend beyond natural rights and focuses on human rights. The ‘right to have rights’ reflects the rights-based approach of the refugee regime, which challenges the autonomy of a state, especially one who works outside of the international refugee regime and creates its own policy. The notion of ‘right to have rights’ describes the tension between individuals and states. In its conceptual application, refugees access to rights highlights the physical and legal differences between the norms of a state and their practices. This is why the mass displacement of Syrians has become a major crisis.
3. Case Study: The Rise of the Syrian Refugee Crisis
3.1 History of the Refugee State
During the late Ottoman period and the early French mandate, the territory now known as Syria experienced heavy flows of refugees into and out of its borders. There were three main refugees flows during Syria’s formation. In the 1920s, Armenians and other Christian populations fled from the newly established Turkish government who acted hostile towards the groups. Then in 1925, a number of Kurdish refugees also left Turkey due to the insurgents wanting to exile ex-Kurdish leaders and their families. The last early group were the Assyrians from Iraq. They arrived in Syria in 1933 after already having been in a refugee camp in Baghdad due to the violence towards them during World War I. The establishment of Syria as a state was on the basis of adapting borders and refugees, including populations of Kurds, Christians, Palestinians, and Iraqis. Though, refugees “fell inside new states and mandatory territories that continued to make border adjustments and exchange populations, through treaties and informally, through the 1930s.” The flows of refugees to and within the state of Syria can be misleading in the sense that it was not always populations that were moving, but instead it was the borders of the state. After World War II, Syria still remained dedicated to receiving refugees. With the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 for those who practice Judaism, the Palestinian population was scattered throughout the region with many of them finding refuge in various United Nation refugee camps within Syria. Additionally, there have been a large number of refugees into the state from Iraq, especially after the West’s attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Due to a severe drought in 2007, economically marginalized cities and provinces were further deprived of basic human needs, which sparked the motivation for protests in 2011. These protests began as a peaceful way to for people to advocate for their political and economic access, but events took a turn when sectarian patterns caused social fragmentation. The ruling Ba’ath party sought to reconcile this divide by focusing on the unity of their nation and its Arabism. By doing so, the party was able to legitimize its rule and maintain control for far longer than anticipated. Though, events ascended into chaos when the religious divides where further emphasized by foreign powers. Donors from Gulf states flooding Islamic factions with economic resources, the arming local clients by Turkey and Qatar, and support for sectarian jihad by many regional actors. By September 2011, rebel militias regularly began confronting government troops. With the emergence of ISIS, Syrian Kurdish parties, and the support of multiple regional actors, the violence escalated into a civil war by March of 2011.
3.2 Syria’s Refugee Crisis
In the matter of four years, after the outbreak of its civil war, Syria experienced a loss of half of its population. By January of 2013, the UNHCR registered 358,698 Syrian refugees. By January of 2014, that number jumped to 2,316,195. January 2015 there were 3,694,124. In January 2016, the amount reached to be 4,566,999. Then in January 2017 there were 4,827,183 Syrian refugees. In January of 2018, 5,479,134 registered Syrian refugees.
As of 2019, there are 6.6 million Syrian refugees and 6.1 million individuals are internally displaced. Those remaining in the country are having a difficult time getting basic needs. It is also especially difficult for humanitarian aid to be delivered to the internally displaced due to the armed conflict and terrain. According to 2019 numbers from the UNCHR, there are 3,639,284 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, 926,717 in Lebanon, 660,330 in Jordan, 228,851 in Iraq, and 131,433 in Egypt. About ten percent of all Syrian refugees live in camps, with 140,000 living in the Za’atari and Azraq camps in Jordan. Fifty percent of all registered Syrian refugees are under the age of 18, millions only ever knowing their home in a state of conflict. As made evident, mass migrant of peoples occur more when major global events occur, such as civil wars.
3.3 Rights of Syrian Refugees in their Host States: Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan
For this section, there will be a discussion of the different factors that go into the current treatment of refugees in the states of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. With each country, the governmentality of the state, the temporary measures of refugee policies, and humanitarian assistance will be deliberated.
To begin, Articles 13 and 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention states that refugees cannot be refused entry when they are fleeing from prosecution and that they have the right to seek asylum. Though, as stated before, states must allow refugees to enter but they have the right to refuse asylum and thus perpetuate the strugglefield. There seems to be a positive correlation between the number of refugees and the amount of state mechanisms that deny them their ‘right to have rights.’ With over three million Syrian refugees and nine percent of them being in refugee camps, Turkey demonstrates the strugglefield. This state has the most control over its governmentality and capabilities of addressing the influx of refugees. Additionally, with this ever-changing world, the ability of refugees to return home is on the decline. Turkey’s false hope of temporariness of the Syrian refugee problem would quickly become problematic for the refugees themselves.
In the early years of the Syrian civil war, Turkish government asserted its position of temporariness of refugees based on the presumption that the civil war would soon come to an end and thus allowing the influx of refugees to return home. In reality, this was becoming less and less promising. As a result, Turkey began adjusting its temporary policies into ones that allowed greater access to rights for refugees. It was not until 2016—five years since the beginning of the war—did Turkey begin phasing out its Temporary Education Centers and instead start entering Syrian refugee children into Turkish schools. It was also during this time that the government began introducing work permit regulations for Syrians. Since, Turkey is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it is more capable of reflecting its domestic policies with the rights-based approach of the refugee regime. Additionally, the Turkish government made major changes in its positioning towards refugees in 2013. Though, under the Law on Foreigners and International Protection, the Turkish government classified Syrian refugees as ‘guests.’ With the improvements in the legal protections of refugees, it does not however guarantee the safety and security of Syrians. Their support of Syrian refugees reflects the amount of humanitarian aid, where the European Union supplies half of its humanitarian aid to Turkey. Finally, in the case of Turkey, refugees are having greater access to rights but are still not able to access all their rights. Turkey is working on improving its influence within the strugglefield and improving their migration governance.
As for the experiences of refugees, it varies vastly depending on which state they are residing and how much said state is allowing them access to their rights. Turkey has been the most hospitable to refugees in comparison to Lebanon and Jordan. Unlike Turkey, Lebanon has not been able to exercise the extent of its own stateness in terms of its capabilities to address the mass amount of refugees, having “the highest number of refugees per capita.” Additionally, due to the close quarters of Lebanon to the Syrian conflict, there has been a rise in rivalries between political factions that are creating divides based on sectarian disputes. In Lebanon, its restrictive policies make it extremely difficult for Syrian refugees to gain employment, find residency, and have access to services such as education. In addition to these already restrictive policies, Lebanon cancelled its long-established law that provided Syrians with the right of movement to and within the country. By eliminating internal protections for Syrian refugees, Lebanon has left them without any legal protections and can subject them to arrest or deportation. This highlights the temporary nature of the state’s policies and treatment towards refugees. Additionally, Lebanon has not been receiving vast amounts of humanitarian assistance and funding. Due to lack of funding and the state’s policy to not establish refugee camps, many refugees stay in non-sanctioned camps which are not protected by the government or NGOs. This has led to Syrian refugees being subject to violence. Syrians are not safe in their home land or in Lebanon. Overall, the experience of refugees within Lebanon demonstrates the lack of protection for refugees and how little the refugee regime is able to provide assistance within the strugglefield where the state is lacking governance.
As for Jordan, they are not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, they are not a part of the refugee regime. Though, the state has demonstrated its capabilities as a state by enacting its own policies towards refugees, apart from the refugee regime. They also had an open-door policy towards refugees but have since elected for more restrictive policies. Though, having formulated a migration compact with assistance from the EU, Jordan has improved access to citizenship for its refugees. Additionally, Jordan has established five refugee camps for Syrians which is mainly due to their policy of not allowing them to properly integrate into society. They have also received around €686 million in humanitarian aid.
As will become more evident in the next section, there is a gap between the norms of state government and the practices. Though Turkey and Jordan are headed in an improved direction, refugees are still feeling the effects of temporariness of government policies and are unable to access certain rights.
3.4 Narratives of Syrian Refugees
The narratives of policy and the narratives of individuals often tell different stories, norms versus practice. Using the narrative of refugees and allowing a channel of sharing stories and truths allows for there to be a recognition of differences between norms and practices. This section will explore the stories of three Syrian refugee women: Muzna, Sama, and Sara. Muzna was chosen to help demonstrate the difference between norms and practices in Turkey and shed light on the reality of refugee camps. As for Sama, she is able to expose the nature of traveling between various states, especially since she winds up in Germany. Lastly, Sara discusses her struggles of receiving documentation as well as how her statelessness left her homeless.
Muzna is from Aleppo and is a human rights activist with a bachelor’s degree. In 2017, she had her asylum hearing and was successfully granted asylum in Canada just in time to get her master’s at Sherbrooke University in Quebec that same year. She was 26 at the time of her asylum. During her time in Turkey, she discusses the how most Syrians are treating Turkey as a ‘transitional locale,’ meaning that they do not expect to be there for a significant amount of time and therefore do not bother to learn the language or culture. Muzna states that if Syrians want to feel safer, then they should make an effort to learn the language in order to help them get out of unpleasant situations. She also mentions the vulnerabilities of being labelled as a ‘guest’ by the Turkish government. “I prefer to be granted a refugee status instead of being a ‘guest’ […] We cannot fully function without a status.” Syrians usually have to work in disguise or have to be registered under Turkish names. This can cause negative implications for the ways in which one’s identity can be shifted and/or formulated as well as create additional stresses to an already stressful environment.
When Muzna visited camps in Lebanon and Jordan on behalf of the NGO she was working for, what she witnessed was a cascade of human right violations. Against the women, families would sell their daughters to old men along the borders and within refugee camps in order to ensure their own survival due to the lack of aid provided by the government and international agencies. Against the men, young boys would be recruited as soldiers. As for access to refugee camps, Muzna was unable to gain access to Turkish camps but was easily able to get into the Lebanese and Jordanian camps. Based on this narrative, there seems to be an attitude of temporariness by both the Turkish government and Syrian refugees, both influencing each other’s attitudes towards the other. Each party is helping to perpetuate each other’s stereotypes and therefore making it more difficult to respect one another.
The next narrative is from Sama, who is from Damascus and has a degree in translation. In 2015, she crossed the Aegean in order to reunite with her family in Germany after having spent time in Lebanon and Turkey. While she and her family was in Turkey, they had a hard time finding a job and residency. Sama’s younger sister was having trouble finishing her high school education. When she wanted to go to school in Lebanon, they told her that she did not have the proper papers. In Germany, she finally was able to finish, but at the age of 22.
The Turkish government was the first to start granting nationality to Syrians, and, as far as she knows, they are the only ones doing so. Sama’s main concern pertains to the education of Syrian refugee children. “The average time out of a country for a refugee is over a decade.” By this standard refugee children could have already reached adulthood before they have even gotten the chance to have any schooling, since it may not be guaranteed within the host country. During the Sama and her family’s journey to Germany to reunite with her brothers, her family registered as refugees and received a photo ID. This ID was the only documentation and proof that they were refugees. If someone were to lose theirs, they would be detained at the next border crossing. This in and of itself is a significant piece of information that is not known to the public of the West. A fear that governments have is that the rights provided to refugees through the refugee regime will be abused without checks. States are afraid that migrants will register as refugees in order to be able to flow freely between states as well as have access to social rights in many different states. This creates an inherent distrust of the international refugee regime by the state, but the regime cannot check itself. When in fact, these fears are perpetuated by the media’s perception of refugees, which conveniently leaves out information on the fact that there is a form of verification that proves the conditions of a refugee.
The last narrative that will be shared is from a 26-year-old woman named Sara. She has a degree in pharmacy and has a strong interest in the fields of linguistics and humanitarian aid. She left Syria in 2015 and traveled first to Turkey and then to Greece. It was there that she got her job at an NGO after spending six months homeless. Though, during her time in Turkey, she was not safe and her rights were not being respected. Sara was experiencing harassment and labor exploitation, which led her to a decision to leave the country. She paid a smuggler to get her to Athens, using all the money she had. Penniless, she slept in the streets and on park benches. It was only after she was assisted by an NGO through her asylum process and after it was granted did she gain access the health benefits.
In the analysis section below, there will be a discussion of how the rights of refugees may not be as accessible as host state policies let on. Especially in terms of Turkey, whose policies have been vastly improving, there is still a legal and physical space between government policies and a refugee’s access to those rights—demonstrating the strugglefield.
4.1 The Difference Between Norms and Practices
Though the refugee regime exists, its enforcement is sorely lacking. Norms and practices have their own narratives and representations that cause misalignment. The contrast between the norms and the realities of refugees displays the spaces in governmentality. To draw upon the concept of the strugglefield and the ‘right to have rights,’ there is a disconnection between the policies of states that should be allowing for more access to rights and the actual practice of those rights. Turkey has been making significant strides in their policies that allow foreigners, and Syrian refugees, to become more integrated into society by providing them with social rights such as access to education. Though, due to their label by the Turkish government as ‘guests,’ Syrians are not willing to learn the language or culture. The Turkish government has politically isolated them from the rest of the Turkish community and Syrians are reciprocating this attitude of temporariness. Syrians also still find it difficult to get a residency and documentation in Turkey. The government perceives themselves as transit state, where they do not want refugees to stay permanently.
In Jordan and Lebanon, both are states that struggle with governance, they do not have enough aid to provide safety and basic needs to refugee camps. Their restrictive policies have made it difficult for refugees to access certain rights, especially in the civil and social spheres. For Syrian refugees in Lebanon, they do not have the same access to human rights as the those in Turkey. This is due to a multitude of factors, including the lack of prioritization by the international community to focus on Syrian refugees that are more so located in the Orient and therefore being considered the ‘Other.’. Jordan may actually have more Syrian refugees than Turkey, but due to the lack of protections and funding for refugees in that state, they cannot be properly accounted for. Turkey’s recognition of its responsibilities towards refugees directly correlates with the amount of humanitarian funding they receive from the international community, more specifically from the European Union. The refugee regime was initially set up to serve a specific group of refugees—all originating in Europe—and still demonstrates today that its priorities have not shifted. ‘Othering’ ideology still fuels the rationale behind the current refugee regime. Turkey’s proximity to Europe allows for it to be considered less so as part of the Orient and more so a part of the West. Though, this is all for perpetuating the superiority of the West over the rest due to their ability to appraise, in their eyes, a humanitarian crisis, which inherently ignores the real realities and extent of the true crisis.
Lastly, the RSI framework also comes into play due to its contributions to the concept of human rights. It allows for an understanding of the narratives of refugees and gives their voices more validation. The confliction of identity when the refugee travels within the physical, legal, and conceptual strugglefield. “Subjects are constantly ‘torn out’ from themselves due to the many transformations of juridical status and social positions they experience, as well as the conflicting sites of subjectivation and subjection in which they are simultaneously involved.” This describes the cultural aspect and difficult that the strugglefield helps perpetuate because it damages the development of a refugee’s identity, which inherently affects how they interact with their host state and their norms.
4.2 Moving Forward: A Shift in Perspective
As demonstrated by this paper, there has been a disconnection between the norms and practices of the refugee regime. The norms have implemented universal refugee rights, but have failed to ensure that its definition is being upheld by states. In order to improve on this condition, there are some fundamental and conceptual adjustments that need to take place.
The international refugee regime is unable to guarantee refugees access to the rights that have clearly been established by the regime itself. In order to make adapt to the changing conditions of the world and to encourage individual states to take action to provide refugees with their rights, an international convention renewing said rights would be a step in the right direction. The standards of refugee rights have not been adjusted since the 1967 Protocol, which did not change the rights of refugees but only extended it to apply to all populations of the world. This would also encourage the inclusion of states outside of the West to participate and encourage more signatories. Additionally, this will recognize the ‘Other’ and provide them with a chance to implement their narrative into the dominant discourses of the West. Lastly, the convention would apply additional pressure to the international community to address the Syrian refugee crisis as well as other humanitarian crises in the rest of the world.
Technology has advanced, new states have formed, and the priorities of humanitarian aid has drastically changed since the 1967 Protocol. Globalization has also allowed for increased migration to occur and has encouraged more interconnectedness between states. The boundaries of the world are not as distinctive as they were 60 years ago, thus leading to the cross-fertilization of cultures. States, naturally, fear this process because it threatens their autonomy. Society within each state are fearful that their national identity and positioning will be jeopardized by the allowing refugees into their country as well as providing them with their rights. By giving refugees access to their rights, it allows them to integrate more so into society instead of being keep separate and therefore threatening said national identity. Furthermore, it is difficult to try and balance the autonomies of the state and society with the authorities of the international refugee regime. Thus, there needs to be new safe-guards put into place for refugees by the refugee regime in order encourage states to oblige to the system that is already in place. In addition to these safe-guards, societies can influence the state’s conceptual of national interest by extending sympathy to refugees.
As for the conceptual change, the international refugee regime needs to recognize the foundations and ideals that it was built upon. It stemmed from liberal beliefs and values that operate best with democracies. “Acknowledging how these ideas are shaped and continue to shape our values and beliefs will not undermine their influence on conceptions of moral duty, but should instead help strengthen our commitment to them.” Since the refugee regime has already been built and has been enforcing these liberal ideas and values, it would be counter-productive to rebuild what is considered the fundamental foundation of human rights. Therefore, by acknowledging this position and the positioning of the West today, this would improve the relationship and respect between the West and the Orient. If international implementation and follow through is the goal for the refugee regime, then there needs to be an integration of other societies and beliefs. This would help improve the effectiveness of the international refugee regime as well as the accountability of states since they would feel more obligation due to the acceptance of their value systems. With this trickle-down effect, the spaces of governmentality would begin to be fulfilled. The tensions in the strugglefield between the state and the individual can be reduced if the state decides to reduce is national interests and accept the inflow of refugees, allowing them to become a part of its society.
Throughout the entirety of this paper, the conflict between state authority acting inside or outside the refugee regime and the individuals who flow through this physical space showed the tensions that could arise. Due to the disconnection between the norms of a state’s law and the refugee regime, the realities that refugees face differ from the governance put in place. The practices of these laws do not align with the norms, forcing refugees into a conceptual and physical space where they lack access to human rights in the civil, political, and social spheres. There has been attempts by states to reconcile this detachment between the two. Though, in order for refugees to gain access to their ‘right to have rights,’ the international refugee regime, state authorities, and individuals must harmonize. Until that point, refugees will always be considered less than equal to the citizens of their host country and thus have a lasting effect on generations to come. Therefore, the Syrian refugee crisis will not dissipate when the Syrian civil war ends.
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