Reflections on the categories and genealogy of migration in the Middle East

Jalal Al Husseini

This document synthetises the work I have carried out within the third axis of the Lajeh program since its start in 2015.

My main interest has revolved around the integration policies elaborated by the Jordanian state to accommodate the various waves of refugees hosted in the country since 1948 within its nation-building endeavour. These include Palestinians (since 1948, 1967 and 2011), Iraqis (since 2003) and Syrians (since 2011).

My research has first sought to understand the making of “refugee policies”: how state authorities have responded to these different refugee crises in terms of admission and the granting of social, economic and political rights. To identify common patterns across these responses, I looked closely at various key humanitarian, socioeconomic and political criteria. These include: the tradition of hospitality and humanitarian concerns, short- and long-term economic and political opportunity cost analyses, and the official and unofficial positions of stakeholders on solutions to the refugee crises (on issues regarding return to the country/place of origin, and long-term integration in the host country or resettlement in a third country).

Through the analysis of the legal status and labelling procedures, as well as related issues like access to education and to the local labour market, it has also endeavoured to grasp the long-term, compounded, impacts of the refugee inflows on Jordan society. In so doing, it has attempted to uncover the Jordanian state’s relation to society, the way it understands and manipulates such notions as national identity, citizenship, nationality and nation-building.

One methodological concern has been to open the “black box” of Jordan’s decision-making process by identifying its various state and non-state actors. These involve internal actors such as the King and its Court, the government, its ministries and departments, the parliament, and civil society at large. External actors such as Jordan’s donor countries (mainly the USA and the EU) and international organisations (mainly UNRWA for Palestine refugees and the UNHCR and UN sister organisations for other refugee groups) have also shaped Jordan’s refugee policies, at both elaboration and implementation levels. Finally, the collective behaviour of refugees towards the policies and their coping strategies has also contributed to shape state agendas.

Jordan’s experience with refugees illustrates how refugee policies are ultimately the result of the confrontation of various internal and external interests, including geopolitical, that often surface during negotiations between the different stakeholders during the elaboration, the implementation and the evaluation of policies.

In particular, my research has addressed three key, and correlated, areas of refugee integration policies and politics alongside their discriminatory aspects:

  • Admission policies and the granting of specific legal status (documentation).
  • Access to primary, secondary and higher education, with a focus on the quality of the education provided to Syrian refugees in various governorates.
  • Access to the informal and formal labour markets. This field of research best illustrates the shift from the relief to the developmental paradigm.

The fieldworks I have carried out since 2015 have targeted various refugee groups:

  • 2015: The Syrian refugees- Education: Qualitative study on the education provided to Syrian children in Mafraq governorate, which is now inhabited by a majority of Syrian refugees; interviews and focus groups with parents and children.
  • 2015-2016: The Palestinian refugees from Syria: living conditions (within the framework of a quantitative survey organised by UNRWA).
  • 2016: The Syrian refugees: training and labour market issues; interview with the main institutional stakeholders.
  • 2017: The ex-Gazans – legal regime with focus on the analysis of the “ex-Gazan regime” in Jordan, including interviews with stakeholders and refugees and focus groups in Jerash (“Gaza”) and Marqa refugee camps, which are the main ex-Gazan gatherings.
  • 2017: Jordan-EU cooperation about the integration of the Syrian refugees in Jordan’s formal labour market. Meetings with EU and Jordanian stakeholders.

While focusing on Jordan, my research has also gained insight from looking at the experience of other Middle Eastern countries, like Lebanon, that have hosted similar refugee groups.