A Different Kind of Refugee: A Case Study of the Emirates’ Syrian Migrants Seeking Citizenship in Europe

  • In the absence of access to citizenship rights and permanent residencies in the Gulf States, Syrian migrants of the Gulf are increasingly seeking alternative permanencies elsewhere. Through an ethnography in Berlin and Hamburg, this project aims to explore how Syrians, born and raised in the UAE, navigate the ‘asylum seeking route’ to Western Europe, taking into consideration the situation in Syria and its effects upon their relationship to citizenship and future plans, within the Gulf and Europe. AvH, 2021


    Dr. İdil Akıncı

    Former Visiting Fellow

    Logo Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung
    Logo Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung

    Research Questions

    The overarching research question of this project is:

    How does the legal exclusion of migrant populations in host societies together with political and socio-economic instability in the home countries of migrants, produce new forms of transnational migratory experiences?

    To answer this larger substantive question, the project will empirically analyze the following subthemes:

    1) The impact of the Syrian conflict on Syrian citizens who live in the Gulf States, both on the social and structural level;
    2) The key reasons for their decision to migrate to a European country, their process of deciding the destination and the methods they developed in reaching Europe;
    3) The future development of this group’s patterns of mobility in transnational spaces, including the Gulf, Europe and globally, after the acquisition of ‘European’ passports.

    Contribution to International Research

    The project contributes to migration and refugee studies through a case study of Syrian migrants who live(d) in the Gulf States, aiming to challenge and complicate prevailing norms on drivers of (forced) migration both in academic and policy circles. Syrians are more vulnerable to the strict migration policies of the Gulf States than other migrant groups, as Gulf authorities are wary of a possible spill over of the Syrian conflict to the UAE.

    The project contributes to citizenship studies by exploring not only issues in the Gulf region, but also responding to larger contemporary questions such as the links between limited legal exclusion of migrant populations in (Western) host societies, political and socio-economic instability in the home countries of migrants, and drivers of (forced) onwards migration for these populations.

    The project adds to Gulf studies by enlarging the limited research on migrant lives in the Gulf, which predominantly focusses on South Asian communities. Currently, there is no research which attends to the experiences of Arab migrant groups who live in the Gulf. The aim of this project is therefore to highlight the various strategies Syrian migrants in the Gulf develop in order to mitigate the spillover effects of the political conflict in their countries of origin on their future plans and mobilities within the Gulf as well as globally.

    Research Design and Methods

    50 in-depth, semi structured qualitative interviews with Syrian nationals over six months of fieldwork. Reflecting the heterogeneity of Syrian communities in the Gulf, interviewees will include males and females who are representing a diverse set of socio-economic, geographic, and cultural backgrounds. Considering the focus is on the Syrians who already left the UAE, interviews with those in the UAE will be conducted virtually.

    E-International Relations | 09/2021

    Different Type of Refugee: Onward Journeys of Gulf-Born Migrants from Politically Volatile Countries

    Dr. İdil Akıncı

    Former Visiting Fellow


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