Pre-colonial Connections in a Post-colonial Present: Experiences and Imaginings of Syrian and Palestinian Refugees in Jordan

Authors: Karen Culcasi*, West Virginia University
Topics: Migration, Middle East, Political Geography
Keywords: Refugees, mobility, borders, Arab world, postcolonialism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Madison B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has the second highest refugee population per capita in the world. Prior to the establishment of Jordan as a British mandate in 1923, and continuing since its independence in 1946, migrants and forcibly displaced peoples have been central to the formation and growth of the Jordanian state. Drawing from interviews and fieldwork that I conducted with Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Jordan, in this paper I examine how Arab nationalism, as an anti-imperialist discourse and practice that grew during the mandate period, has intersected with their experiences of displacement and their imaginings of homeland today. Though displaced Palestinians and Syrians in Jordan have had quite different views on al’uruba (Arabness), most share some connection to the Arab world and an Arab identity. Using a postcolonial perspective, I show that being displaced between territories that were open and connected prior to the imposition of British imperial borders has affected Syrian and Palestinian refugees’ mobility and daily lives. Though today’s borders do impede movement, historical and cultural connections, a long history of mobility, norms of hospitality, labor migration, and kinship ties have all helped to generate territories and mobilities that challenge and transgress modern, imperial borders. I conclude that pre-colonial connections exist within a post-colonial present and argue that this merits attention as it provides insights that may encourage the international refugee regime to consider alternative, supranational approaches to state-based refugee management and the durable solutions.

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