Migration, mobility, and circulation in the Middle East: rethinking inequalities and informality

Study Week Programme:

About the Study Week

The Migration Study Week, organised by Lebanon Support, offers a participatory, interdisciplinary, innovative, and intensive immersion in migration issues in the Middle East. It aims at providing practitioners, junior researchers, and journalists that work with and on refugees the opportunity to reflect critically on the main problematics that shape migration, mobility, and circulation in the Middle East.

The study week will combine interactive lectures, open discussions and exchanges, as well as field visits.

It will focus on shedding light on the national (macro-), subnational/local (meso-), and individual (micro-) levels and the extent to which migration governance can contribute to perpetuate inequality and social injustice in the region, as well as the emergence of (informal) strategies deployed by migrants and refugees in order to “navigate” increasingly constraining systems. The study week will hence aim at integrating this critical approach in each participant’s respective field. It will also offer a space for synergies, networking, and sharing experiences between scholars and practitioners in the region, in view of facilitating multi-disciplinary collaboration.

The study week is a novel space that provides scientific knowledge combined with localised and applied methods, offered by Lebanon Support’s scholars and experts, in addition to a selection of scholars from the region and Europe.


Monday 26 August

15:00-15:30: Introduction to LS and the SW : Dr Marie-Noëlle AbiYaghi, Ms Léa Yammine

15:30-16:30: An interactive play-based introduction to migration in the region and Lebanon: Ms Angela Saadeh

16:30-16:45: Coffee Break

16:45-17:45: Personal reflection and group sharing to rethink migration and our rapport to it, Ms Angela Saade

18:00-19:30: A conversation with Meriam Prado Dubal (Alliance of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon) and small reception. (This session is open to the public. If you would like to attend, please confirm your attendace by sending an email to events[at]lebanon[dash]support[dot]org) 


Tuesday 27 August

10:00-13:00 (including break): Dr Hana Jaber. “Refugeeness in the Levant: unachieved concepts and blurred realities; the case of Palestinian and Syrian refugees”.


The session will explore population movements that occurred in modern and contemporary Levant, notably the Palestine exodus movement in 1948, and more recently, the Syrian forced displacement in 2011. The historical contexts will allow the identification of patterns, continuities and ruptures in the refugees’ semantic field, in the region and beyond. Dislocation of Ottoman Empire, followed by French and British Mandates over Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Iraq, resulted in new geographic and political entities with boundaries, jurisdictions, and reconfiguration of alliances over power. The new social realities at work at the outset of the First World War until the end of the 1940s are marked by various forms of mobility between different cities and areas in the Levant(transhumance, merchants, etc.). These mobilities interweaved kin linkages, social and economic ties beyond nation- state boundaries that started consolidating.

“Refugees” as a specific category emerged in Europe in the late 1930s and took a final shape in international relations, with the 1951 UN Conventions on Refugees and the creation of UNHCR. This category was initially meant to deal with European realities. Yet, the Levant region was witnessing flows of European Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Europe and settling in historical Palestine, and Zionist groups negotiating national rights over Palestine, with British mandate authorities. The creation of UNRWA for Palestine refugees in the Near East, in the aftermath of 1948 war, is the consequence of the paradoxical reality at work in the “holy land”: European refugee populations arriving to Palestine, and Palestinian native populations being expelled from their homeland to neighbouring countries. In 1948, UNRWA registered over than 800.000 refugees who had fled Palestine.

The conflict resulting from Syrian uprisings resulted in the most important forced migration flow in contemporary history. In 2018, UNHCR registered over 5.6 million refugees and over 6 million internally displaced who started fleeing their homes in 2011, due to repression, bombings, and the militarisation of the conflict. The substantial difference between these two major historical events did not necessarily translate into significant adjustments in national policies of the hosting countries, namely Jordan and Lebanon, whose jurisdictions remained unchanged. However, important changes could be noticed in the United Nations’ approach of forced displacement, with respect to European fears of waves of migrations. Changes and permanencies over time are significant in regard to the representations, and conceptual framing of refugeness.


13:00-14:00: Lunch break


14:00-16:00: Dr Zeynep Sahin Mencütek, An interactive lecture on methodology and conducting Comparative Migration Studies in the Middle East.


Comparative cases are insightful and useful to understand changing patterns in origin-transit-receiving countries, as well as in informing theory pertaining to the governance of mass refugee flows. They  also contribute to enhance existing theories, by shedding light on the interactions amongst regions between the Global North and South. With a focus on methodology in migration policy research, this session will discuss how scholars select what to compare and how, as part and parcel of theory-building and theory evaluation in migration governance. The session will cover the following themes and discussions.

  1. A general overview of comparative research in migration studies;
  2. An introduction of comparison types and examples: cross location (country, region, city/province/town), cross-group, cross meso actors, cross time, and combined comparisons;
  3. Comparative study examples from the migration from and to the Middle East and North Africa;
  4. Common challenges and limitations in conducting comparative refugee studies work in the region;
  5. Suggestions of scholars about coping with challenges regarding comparative research;
  6. Systematic comparison examples drawing from the author’s recent monograph analysing refugee governance in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan;
  7. Discussion on comparative research proposals of students.


16:00-16:30: Coffee break


Wednesday 28 August

10:00-12:00: Prof. Dr Sabine Hess, lecture: “Decentralising the “European Refugee Crisis”


This session aims to re-conceptualise the central paradigms of international border studies against the events of 2015 when the world “mass-migration” and –refugee movements succeeded to “overrun” the different border-layers of the European border regime and managed to find their ways to western Europe. In doing so the session seeks to:

  1. Shed light on a different genealogy and, hence, to tell a different history of the “long summer of migration” in 2015 and its aftermaths.
  2. Instigate a dialogue on the migration and refugee realities in the Middle East
  3. Question central border studies paradigms such as externalisation or dominant narratives, such as refugee- crisis.


12:00-12:15: Coffee break


12:15-13:15: Ms Dounia Salame, workshop on “Refugees as City-Makers: For a different kind of refugee talk”


This workshop will present the framework of a research project that culminated in the publication of Refugees as City-Makers (eds. Mona Fawaz, Mona Harb, Ahmad Gharbieh and Dounia Salamé), a collection of essays, articles, maps, photographs and other visual work aiming to contest the stereotypical representations of refugees as destitute and powerless aid recipients. Through examples from three research projects conducted by the editors, the workshop will present how Syrian refugees have been active agents in learning, dwelling, and transforming Beirut, while navigating an extremely constraining legal framework. It will present refugees as workers, dwellers, entrepreneurs, artists, artisans, and students contributing to reimagining Beirut as a place of refuge and diversity. At the end of the workshop, participants are able to:

  1. Deconstruct the idea of a refugee “crisis” and critically analyse the various narratives of “refugee talk” and how they translate in various policies and practices in Lebanon;
  2. Understand how an urban/spatial framing of displacement and migration enables to question and challenge dominant categorizations and binaries (like “migrants” and “refugees”) and underscore the role of agency among vulnerable city dwellers, especially refugees;
  3. Unpack institutional systems of population control and labeling through everyday navigations of these systems and labels and the analysis of spatial practices and lived experiences;
  4. Learn about methodologies of visualising and mapping data, especially related to migration and forced displacement.


13:15-14:15: Lunch break


14:15-16:15: Dr. Zeynep Sahin Mencütek, lecture: “Refugee returns: aspirations, narratives, and policies”.


Return migration is quite a dynamic and complex phenomenon driven by contested concepts, approaches, and controversial practices. Research on return migration has expanded during the last decade, mainly building on the literature on transnationalism, diaspora, and mobilities. The existing studies have focused on the prospects for return, repatriation, post-return integration, and reverse cultural shock. The issues relevant to returns/repatriations in case of mass forced migration and irregular migration have received less attention, although return has long been seen as a critical component of managing the irregular migration and one of the durable solutions for refugee protection proposed by EU and UNHCR.  The lecture will cover the following themes and discussions:

  1. Key concepts: returning migrants, voluntary return, repatriation, return in safety, voluntary repatriation, reintegration, assisted returns, short and permanent returns;
  2. Return in the migration theory and main approaches in studying returns: rational choice model, integration approach, transnationalism, identity focused approaches, policy centric studies, personal attributions centric approaches, return migration as failure or success?
  3. Insights from cases: Syrian refugees’ return aspirations in Turkey; Repatriation of refugees from Ghana to Liberia and from Eritrea to Sudan, Iraqi returnees from European countries;
  4. Discussions on students’ ongoing or future research and/or practitioner projects on the topic.


16:30-19:00 Beirut a city shaped by migration/s Pedagogical walking tour of Beirut, led by Ms Angela Saade


Thursday 29 August

10:00-11:00: Reflexive exercise, Ms Angéla Saade


11:00-13:00: Dr Oroub el-Abed, interactive workshop: “Citizens and Refugees: Managing through Engendering Disparities: The case of Jordan”.


This workshop aims to shed light on the policies of Arab countries when dealing with forced migrants. Understanding such policies over the years, permits us to analyse how rights have been missed and how displaced people fail to enjoy their very basic legal and social rights. This, as a result, is reflected in their disaffiliation from the host society in many ways. The case study for this workshop is Jordan. The workshop will cover a historical overview of the migration influxes and set them in perspective of the political economy of Jordan. Despite its limited natural resources, Jordan, since its creation, has been keeping an open border politics towards forced migrants; in this vein what are the main factors that matter in managing its hybrid population? The discussions building on some suggested readings, seeks to link between the management of the forced migration and the social (in)justice and will support with some empirical examples from the field.

The talk shall cover:

  1. An overview of Jordan’s recent history (politics of integration, politics of survival and endurance, politics of resilience);
  2. A Reading of the factors that matter in managing a hybrid population (rentierism, labelling, the one pattern refugee burden, emergency vs development, security);
  3. Accessing Rights and everyday challenges (invisiblised rights, banned rights).


13:00-14:00: Lunch break


14:00-17:00 (including break): Dr Estella Carpi, interactive workshop “Forced Migrations and Cultures of Assistance in Lebanon: From Meso-Governance to Micro-Governance and Back”.


The session aims to enlarge a qualitative understanding of migration governance actors at the meso and micro levels. More specifically, the session will illustrate the key mechanisms and articulated relationships that govern forced migrations on the ground across Lebanon at different historical stages marked by refugee crises. It will discuss differences and commonalities cutting across both secular and religious actors (mainly non-governmental organisations, local leaders – zu‘ama’ – local state officials – makhatir – and local religious leaders from Christian and Muslim communities). The session will also nuance the different cultures of assistance that characterise different models of care and provision, in response to an increasing international focus on ‘Southern-led’ aid provision as opposite to ‘Northern-led’ understandings of assistance. By including self-reflection activities, the module will also provide methodological tools to prepare the attendees to tackle complex ethical issues concerning data-driven studies of forced migration.

The session will notably shed light on:

  1. A social map of service and aid provision in Lebanon and the Arab Levant, with a special focus on the development-humanitarian and secular-religious nexuses;
  2. An understanding of how NGOs, local authorities, local and refugee communities and individuals respond to crisis management and manage migration influxes at the same time;
  3. A methodological framework to approach migration related issues and data-driven research, for both practitioners and academic researchers;
  4. Enhanced awareness of the ethical issues that migration related studies entail.


18:30-20:30: Round table discussion on scientific research informing programmatic interventions and policy making (speakers notably include Dr Nasser Yassine, AUB-IFI, Ms Virginie Lefèvre, Amel Association) (This roundtable is open to the public. If you would like to attend, please confirm your attendace by sending an email to events[at]lebanon[dash]support[dot]org) 


Friday 30 August

10:00-11:15: Dr Nassim Majidi, Talk via Skype: “Understanding durable solutions frameworks: A focus on preparedness, return and reintegration”.


Repatriation of refugees is often a major priority for host and origin governments, as it provides a symbol of stability and a sense of normality in fragile situations. In these contexts, supporting nationals to return to their homes of origin to contribute, rebuild a country, or support communities is part of the state-building narrative of stabilisation and reconstruction. While voluntary repatriation is the preferred of all three durable solutions by policy-makers, and while it features prominently in the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), less attention has been invested in understanding what is needed to make returns safe, dignified and reintegration sustainable. Evidence from Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria shows that returnees face vulnerabilities that are specific to the locations they return to, and to their profiles, long after return.

Based on a global study conducted for NRC, DRC and IRC with funding from ECHO, this session will provide

  1. An overview of durable solutions frameworks with a detailed discussion of (re)integration frameworks from academia and from practice
  2. Evidence from three countries with a particular focus on Syria
  3. A set of standards to be aimed for when engaging on return and (re)integration to inform policy and practice.


11:15-11:30: Coffee break


11:30-13:00: Dr Kamel Doraï, lecture “Palestinian from Syria in Lebanon since 2011. From forced migration to forced immobility?


While the Arab revolutions since 2011 had tended to marginalise the Palestinian question in the Middle East, the Syrian conflict, and more particularly the siege of the Palestinian camp Yarmouk in the suburbs of Damascus in 2012, reminded that the Palestinian refugees' problem was still on the agenda. Before the beginning of the Syrian upheaval, Palestinians enjoyed a relative better integration then most of the Palestinians in the region with unrestricted access to education and the labour market in Syria. This presentation aims to:

  1. Analyse the host state response to the arrival of Palestinians refugees escaping Syria since 2011 in Lebanon. This issue raises the wider question of the status of Palestinian refugees who are forced to seek asylum in a third country. Their precarious legal status has a strong impact both on how they settle in their host country and their access to mobility and protection in the context of conflicts.
  2. Explore the socio-spatial marginalisation of Palestinian refugees from Syria in already existing camp and informal gatherings.
  3. Discuss the role of already existing Palestinian camps and informal gatherings in the reception policy developed by Lebanon.


13:00-14:00: Lunch break


14:00-16:00: Ms Preethi Nallu, workshop on “Forced Migration and Media Narratives - New Forms of Storytelling”.


As an interlocutor between the different facets of the academia-policy-practice-media nexus, Preethi Nallu will draw from her experiences of working as a field journalist, and for UN agencies, international NGOs and think tanks, to illustrate how these fields can draw from each others’ skills and experiences to deepen the understanding and particularities of specific displacement contexts. The session will delve further into the value of these specialised sectors in producing comprehensive, contextualised  reports and films for news media. It will start by presenting human-centric narratives - films, photos and interactive mediums that illustrate specific displacement trends and analyses of two reports covering Syria and Afghanistan - to explain both the importance of cooperation between the various sectors in the field of migration and linking trends in different countries to better inform new policies and practices.


16:00-17:00: Ms Léa Yammine, introduction on visualising research


17:00-18:00: Concluding session and wrap up of the study week, Ms Angela Saade and Dr Marie-Noëlle AbiYaghi


20:00: Dinner at Badguèr, Cultural Centre and Restaurant in Burj Hammoud