Refugee Geopolitics and the Mobilization of Exile Space

Authors: Ali Hamdan*, UCLA
Topics: Political Geography, Middle East, Migration
Keywords: Refugees, displacement, political geography, civil war, Syria, Middle East
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


Displacement transforms the political lives of the displaced. Historically, the study of these politics has investigated the extreme vulnerability of displaced persons – and refugees in particular – to medical and socio-economic strain, their pathways to South-North asylum channels, their experiences navigating the institutions and legal regimes of those who manage them, and ultimately, their reduction to a form of “bare life.” More recently, scholars have shown interest in how refugees push back against those actors seeking to “manage” their search for refuge, as well as how refugees assert rights, make claims, and hold such actors accountable. Building upon this mounting interest in refugee agency, this paper argues that refugee politics likewise exceed their status qua refugee. It does so by outlining how refugees become situated geopolitical agents capable of mobilizing and shaping world politics, focusing on the case of Syria’s opposition in exile, an assemblage of loosely-linked refugees based largely in Turkey and Jordan. Describing the practices of mobilization from exile, I argue that Syrian refugees further a revolutionary project that, in turn, works to produce a novel kind of space in the warzone of Syria, one that not only reveals the potentials afforded by exile as well as its immense challenges. By attending to this project and how refugees from Syria work to realize it, I hope to return our gaze to the political projects, aspirations, and labor of actors based in the Global South and enliven discussion of refugee agency.

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