Jacobsen: Doctoral Dissertation Research: Forced Migrants Encountering the Refugee Regime

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This proposed research examines the relationship between migration management practices of Western European states and the lived experiences of Syrian forced migrants who seek to escape the ongoing Syrian civil war via Jordan. As of June 2015 more than 629,000 Syrians have registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Jordan (UNHCR 2015) and the Jordanian government estimates that a total of 1.4 million Syrians are currently in Jordan (www.moi.gov.jo/). While Western states have been reluctant to intervene directly in the Syrian conflict, they increasingly channel regional humanitarian aid and refugee processing procedures through Jordan to curb the flows of Syrian forced migrants to their own shores (Achilli, 2015). Denmark is a prime example of this trend. Not only has Denmark been at the forefront of reducing European Union commitments to humanitarian migration and asylum, but it also increasingly seeks to manage migrants through humanitarian aid and multilateral agreements with countries bordering the conflict zones. Taken together, state migration policies, refugee laws, and international agreements constitute what we term the refugee regime - a set of institutional practices through which the migration policies of Europe and the Middle East have become increasingly interconnected. In examining this regime, this research draws attention to the transnational topographies that consist of state agencies, humanitarian organization, and non-state actors involved, Importantly, we also examine how Syrians displaced by war experience this refugee regime. The changing spatialities of borders and migration management since the end of the Cold War have been at the center of geographic research. Migration control and places of bordering have moved away from the actual 'borderline' inward to interior sovereign sites (Coleman 2007b) and outward to sites beyond the state's territorial remit (Bialasiewicz 2012). Through interrogations of external visa controls (Lavenex 2006), re-location of asylum processing centers (Andrijasevic 2010; Gammeltoft-Hansen 2010), offshore detention facilities (Hyndman and Mountz 2008; Brambilla 2014), and transnational policy treaties (Schuster 2011), scholars use the term externalization to denote a spatial understanding of border enforcement moving expanding outside sovereign territory. Mountz (2010) argues that states use geographies strategically to manage unwanted migrants and deny access to asylum, creating new spaces of exclusion. The externalization of border enforcement has not prevented or stopped migrants from arriving, rather it has made their journey more dangerous (Boswell 2003). In spite of these important advances, critical gaps remain in the knowledge about how migration management and border control is constituted transnationally (Mountz and Loyd 2014b; Collyer and King 2015) and how migrants experience their journey between places of departure and arrival (Schapendonk and Steel 2014), undertake political engagement (Mountz and Loyd 2014a), and negotiate their lives across national boundaries and geographic scales (Ehrkamp and Leitner 2006; Hyndman 2010). Given these gaps, this proposed research seeks to answer the following research questions: RQ1: How is the refugee regime constituted across transnational space? RQ2: How do Syrian forced migrants experience the refugee regime across their migration trajectory and once they arrive in Denmark? These questions will be answered with a combination of qualitative research methods, including archival research, interviews with agency officials in Denmark and Jordan, and in-depth interviews, participatory mapping with Syrian migrants in Denmark.
Effective start/end date3/15/168/31/17


  • National Science Foundation: $15,955.00


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