Completely different Sort of Refugee: Onward Journeys of Gulf-Born Migrants from Politically Risky International locations


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is house to a sizeable Syrian group, a majority of whom have arrived there as momentary migrant staff following the oil growth within the Seventies. A lot of them stayed on with their households, resulting in second and third technology UAE-born Syrians residing within the UAE below momentary renewable visas, as a result of strict migration regimes that forestall everlasting settlement and naturalisation of most migrants within the UAE. Whereas this group’s multigenerational existence within the UAE could recommend that they’re momentary on paper solely, the struggle in Syria has had important results on their sense of long-term safety within the UAE, in addition to their international mobility as Syrian passport holders. In consequence, most of them have robust incentives to attempt to circumvent each the restrictions tied to their citizenship by beginning, and their momentary standing within the UAE, by pursuing ‘stronger’ passports from elsewhere.

My analysis with UAE-born Syrians between 2016 and 2020 explored their concerns and experiences of onward migration from the UAE. My respondents thought of on-migration to safe a much less ambiguous future for themselves than is obtainable within the UAE, which they see as ‘house’, however which has not been formalised as such. My analysis reveals that within the context of restricted choices for mobility and safety, various pathways for long run safety emerge, together with by means of asylum-seeking in a 3rd nation. Drawing on debates on strategic citizenship and sophisticated migration journeys, this paper illustrates how the experiences of UAE-born Syrians, within the context of the continuing political turmoil in Syria, straddle the a lot critiqued but on-going dichotomies in migration research, akin to between momentary and everlasting, pressured and voluntary types of migration. This contribution argues that in a context the place the choice to citizenship acquisition in host nation is foreclosed to migrants, and migrants have very restricted (or no) choices for residential safety elsewhere, their onward journeys for citizenship acquisition may be thought of strategic, however not out of volition.

Syrians within the UAE

Within the UAE, non-nationals, together with these born and raised there, are usually unable to acquire native citizenship or everlasting residency regardless of constituting 90 p.c of the inhabitants. Though the UAE has launched long run visas and even pathways to Emirati citizenship lately, these reforms solely goal extremely expert migrants, entrepreneurs, and traders (Fattah and Abu Omar 2021). Thus, nearly all of migrants within the UAE are regulated by means of renewable, sponsored, momentary visas, often known as kafala.

Syrians traditionally represent one of many largest teams of Arab migrants working within the Gulf States (Babar, 2017:7). Their migration trajectories to the UAE fluctuate traditionally and occupationally. A few of them have arrived as early because the Nineteen Fifties and Sixties to work in expert jobs akin to judges, lecturers, engineers, bankers, docs or as entrepreneurs and businessmen. Within the Seventies, they had been additionally more and more seen in lesser-skilled and decrease paying jobs, working in administrative and technical posts within the military, ports, municipality and native banks (Babar, 2017).

At present, an estimated 242,000 Syrians reside within the UAE, and the UAE authorities has acknowledged that 100,000 of them have entered the UAE because the begin of the battle in 2011 (De Bel-Air, 2015: 10). While political instability at house makes the Gulf States a horny place to settle and stay for many Arab migrants, together with Syrians, they aren’t signatories to the 1951 Geneva Refugee Conference and don’t have any official framework for managing or accepting refugees or asylum seekers (Babar, 2017:9). Subsequently, Syrians within the UAE, together with those that have arrived since 2011, are ruled by means of the kafala system, and aren’t supplied formal provisions for safer residency, or safety from deportation (see The Nationwide, 2018, for advert hoc resolutions for Syrians within the UAE).

Though Syrians could discover strategic options to fight their momentary state of affairs within the UAE, their potential to take action is finally decided by class, social networks, in addition to their nationality (Ruhs, 2013; Vora, 2013; Valenta, 2020). Geopolitical considerations are central to migration coverage making within the Gulf they usually have traditionally formed patterns of migration (see Babar, 2014; Kinninmonth, 2015; Jamal, 2015). But, we have to higher perceive how these considerations, akin to struggle in origin international locations, form Gulf migrants’ want and skill to maneuver onwards, and the advanced pathways they develop to entry the long-term safety of another passport. We additionally have to pay explicit consideration to how Gulf-born migrants expertise the ripple results of the political state of affairs of their international locations of citizenship (see Jamal, 2017; Soudy, 2017; Taylor et al. 2017). The truth that being ‘completely momentary’ is intergenerational within the Gulf States, which means that youngsters of momentary staff inherit their dad and mom’ citizenship and immigration standing by beginning, is a singular case to introduce to the research of citizenship and migration.

UAE-born Syrians are a great instance. Because the begin of the Syrian civil struggle in 2011, Syrians have been subjected to more durable border controls, residency visa renewals and safety checks within the Gulf and globally (Babar, 2014; Kinninmonth, 2015). As residency within the UAE is predominantly linked to work permits, not having the ability to renew residencies has critical implications, starting from not having the ability to enrol youngsters in faculties, to not having the ability to work and earn a residing wage (De Bel-Air, 2015:11). Furthermore, with a view to renew momentary visas within the UAE, migrants have to have a sound passport. Nonetheless, political instability in Syria impacts the Syrian authorities’ potential or want to resume passports for his or her nationals residing overseas, together with within the UAE (Surak, 2021:177). Navy service is obligatory for Syrian nationals, together with these residing overseas. Failing to attend or pay the exemption payment, Syrian authorities refuse to resume passports, which has direct penalties for renewing their residencies within the UAE (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2014). Furthermore, at 800$, Syrian passports are additionally the costliest to problem and renew globally (Alarabiya, 2017).

If Syrians within the UAE lose their momentary work or residency visas, their choices of shifting to a 3rd nation are extraordinarily restricted, contemplating that Syrian passports have misplaced most of their worth when it comes to stability and mobility as a result of struggle, and selective border controls apply most strictly to this group (see Passport Index 2021). Furthermore, as a result of unstable political state of affairs in Syria, ‘return’ just isn’t a viable choice. In reality, UAE-born Syrians can develop into refugees in the event that they lose their momentary residency (see Babar, Ewers and Khattab 2018, 1554). On this context, a rich minority of Syrians within the UAE purchases passports by means of ‘Citizenship by Funding’ programmes (Maceda, 2018). For center class Syrians, like different Gulf migrants, migrating to a Western nation for increased schooling or work, within the hope of finally naturalising, can be a typical technique (Ali, 2011). Nonetheless, research and work visas are more and more onerous to acquire, and had been by no means an choice for almost all of Syrians within the UAE and elsewhere (Khaishgi, 2017). For Syrians with restricted sources or choices, asylum looking for in European Union international locations additionally emerged as a final resort, as this research exhibits. Importantly, this can be a results of having no acceptable alternate options to their unstable authorized standing within the Gulf. This brings me to briefly overview the present conceptual debates on strategic citizenship and sophisticated onward migration journeys.

Results of struggle at ‘house’ on momentary migrants

Within the context of a world inequality, the place people’ mobility in addition to residential safety is set by the passports they maintain, pursuing citizenship from privileged international locations is known as compensational, strategic and pragmatic (Mavroudi, 2006; Harpaz and Mateos, 2018). Restrictive migration regimes and geopolitical considerations are prevalent globally and they’re integral to the replica of worldwide inequalities premised in citizenship, offering a central context to grasp why another passport is interesting to sure populations. As an illustration, residential insecurity, arising from restrictive citizenship and immigration insurance policies, is instantly linked to questions of citizenship and why it issues for individuals who are excluded from it in host international locations (Prepare dinner-Martin, 2019; Bloemraad and Sheares, 2017). Moreover, geopolitical considerations, akin to struggle, or normal political instability, situation the demand for an additional passport, because it supplies means for primary safety and a particular place to reside in a world context of hostile border regimes. Thus, a liminal authorized standing amongst migrants who may in any other case be categorised as refugees, such because the Syrians mentioned on this paper, creates added obstacles (see Menjivar, 2006; Babar, Ewers and Khattab 2018).

So as to have a fuller image of when, how, for whom and in what contexts citizenship issues – essential questions that require additional consideration and investigation in citizenship research (Bloemraad and Sheares, 2017) –, it’s essential to mix the literature on strategic citizenship with that on advanced migration journeys. Whereas strategic citizenship acknowledges worldwide migration as a key technique to bypass inequalities premised on citizenship (Surak, 2021, 171), it stays largely disengaged from essential conceptual discussions in migration research, akin to on volition, company, and migrant decision-making. In consequence, the experiences of people that attempt to entry the safety supplied by stronger passports is commonly studied by means of a binary lens of pressured migrants, e.g. asylum seekers and refugees (Kibreab, 2003; Miller, 2001; Gibney, 2014), versus strategic naturalisers, akin to rich and middle-class people from non-Western international locations who pursue higher passports as a type of insurance coverage coverage (see Surak, 2021; Harpaz and Mateos, 2018).

In momentary migration regimes like within the UAE, migrants are at perpetual danger of shedding residency rights no matter their citizenship. However ought to their house international locations expertise sudden shifts in political circumstances, this danger grows exponentially, resulting in a perceived necessity for citizenship acquisition from elsewhere. This course of may be understood as circumstantial migration (see Carling and Haugen 2020), as altering circumstances lead to unpredicted, advanced onward migration journeys, for instance asylum-seeking, which migrants wouldn’t have thought of earlier than. Complexities of their onward migration, nevertheless, can’t be captured by means of prevailing classes, akin to between momentary/everlasting and compelled/voluntary types of migration. By assuming that folks transfer in linear style, these descriptive classes are likely to ignore that experiences in addition to motivations of people can change over area and time, akin to a variety of socio-economic and political circumstances within the contexts they inhabit (Crawley & Skleparis, 2018: 55; see Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, 2011 for ‘overlapping’ and ‘a number of’ refugeehoods).

At a conceptual degree, circumstances join with the analytical dialogue on volition, alternate options and choices, which Erdal and Oeppen carry ahead (2018). Circumstances are key in understanding volition in migration selections, as a result of they (re)form the fundamental wants of migrants of their explicit context, in addition to a spread of alternate options accessible to them in the event that they resolve to not migrate (Erdal and Oeppen, 2018:985; Crawley and Skleparis, 2018; Gibney, 2011:48).  These alternate options can change alongside a migration journey, as Erdal and Oeppen talk about. But, within the case of Syrians within the UAE, their choices, for instance for long-term safety and mobility, change while they reside of their host nation as momentary residents, due to what is going on in Syria, the nation they maintain passports from. It’s within the context of those altering circumstances that they contemplate, or expertise, onward migration journeys, essentially questioning dichotomous migration classes, and illustrating a brand new instance of a fancy migration trajectory (see Snel, Bilgili and Staring 2020).

First, the dichotomy between pressured versus voluntary migration fails to account for the temporal and circumstantial facets of Gulf migrants’ onward journeys to Western international locations. The experiences of Syrians holding momentary residencies within the UAE will not be thought of as unstable to the identical extent as these fleeing struggle in Syria. Nonetheless, a sudden shift in political circumstances, akin to struggle in Syria, could intensify their sense of temporariness within the UAE, and instigate a necessity for citizenship acquisition from elsewhere. But, the alternate options for citizenship acquisition for these teams are doubly restricted, as they don’t have any entry to permanency of their host international locations, and their potential to maneuver onward is constrained by strict border regimes focusing on residents of politically unstable international locations (Shaheen, 2017). Since their resolution for onward migration is to a big diploma motivated by accessing long-term residential safety that isn’t supplied within the UAE, their experiences are higher understood as ‘being pressured to go away’, even when they migrate onwards below so referred to as voluntary classes, akin to for schooling or work.

Second, considering of migrants within the UAE and the Gulf when it comes to both everlasting or momentary limits our understanding of the which means of those locations for them and their resolution for onward migration. Though a physique of literature illustrates the difficulties of framing migrant experiences and classes as both momentary or everlasting (see Bailey, 2002, Rajkumar, 2012), there may be an ongoing, Eurocentric notion that perceives all momentary residencies of migrants as transit locations, or in different phrases ‘meaningless momentary refuges earlier than migrants attain their ultimate vacation spot’ (Snel, Bilgili and Staring 2020, 4). This may be the case for stepwise migrants within the Gulf, who’ve pre-determined aims of onward migration to Western international locations, and who take particular actions to realize that (Valenta, 2020). Nonetheless, this notion ignores the distinctive state of affairs of Gulf-born migrants, who regardless of being labelled as momentary, are de facto from the Gulf, and understand these locations as their major house. In reality, for many of them, migrating to a 3rd nation is seen as a brief step to amass citizenship and finally return to the Gulf with a ‘stronger passport’ (see Akinci, 2019; Jamal, 2017; Ali, 2011; Surak, 2021, 177). This exhibits that proscribing paths to citizenship within the Gulf has essential results on the way in which migrants understand the worth and which means of citizenship normally.

Conclusion and Outlook

Via the experiences of UAE born Syrians, I illustrated how in restrictive migration contexts akin to within the UAE, a sudden shift in political circumstances in origin international locations, such because the on-going struggle in Syria, instantly impacts the choices and alternate options migrants have for long run safety and stability.

It’s on this context that UAE-born Syrians discover citizenship acquisition elsewhere more and more interesting, but their potential to maneuver onwards is constrained by strict border regimes, even for these with satisfactory monetary property. This paper argues that when migrants don’t have any manner of acquiring citizenship in a number nation, and have restricted (or no) choices for residential safety elsewhere, their onward journeys to amass passports may be framed as strategic, however not voluntary. That is significantly the case for migrants who had been born and raised in host states, however who inherited a scarcity of primary rights to residency and safety from deportation as second- or third-generation migrants. Consequently, asylum looking for in a 3rd nation emerges as an choice for individuals who have restricted sources, as this paper exhibits. Even when these populations have satisfactory sources to maneuver onwards below ‘voluntary classes’, akin to for work, increased schooling, or household unification, their motivations to undertake a journey to entry long-term residential safety place them in migration classes that may very well be rendered as “being pressured to go away”. Furthermore, their onward journeys are sometimes described by migrants as a brief step that permits them to amass a (Western) passport to return ‘house’ – to the UAE – ‘completely’. In so doing, this contribution supplies an instance of advanced migration journeys, and contributes to analytical discussions on voluntariness, selection and alternate options when onward migration is taken into account in pursuit of another citizenship.

The main focus of future educational inquiry shouldn’t be on whether or not to classify migrants akin to those that had been the topic of this textual content as momentary or everlasting, voluntary or pressured, however to grasp what pushes them to hunt various permanencies elsewhere, and below what situations. This additionally requires us to carry debates on strategic citizenship and sophisticated migration journeys nearer collectively, as altering circumstances can instantly form why and the way citizenship issues, and what choices and pathways are there to entry it. Contemplating the prevalence of each restrictive immigration insurance policies globally and geopolitical considerations that inform border coverage making, comparable advanced journeys may be foreseen amongst different migrant teams within the UAE, and wider Gulf, in addition to in different momentary migration contexts. Most lately, as we witness the Taliban take over Afghanistan, and subsequent tales of former President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan civilians taking ‘refuge’ or momentary safety within the UAE, we should always flip our consideration to Afghans who settled within the UAE for many years and throughout generations, and perceive how the sudden political shift in Afghanistan impacts their future safety and mobility, both within the UAE or elsewhere.


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