Transnational mobilities during the Syrian war: an ethnography of rural refugees and Evangelical humanitarians in Mafraq, Jordan
Wagner, Ann-Christin Birgit
This thesis explores how conflict and closed borders have reshaped transnational mobilities in the Levant since 2011. It draws on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Mafraq, a provincial town in northern Jordan, in 2016/17. At the time of my research, Mafraq was home to ca. 100,000 locals and similar numbers of Syrians. The timeframe of the study coincides with a specific moment of the humanitarian response in Jordan when stricter encampment policies had exacerbated legal insecurity for urban refugees and the dwindling of international aid had heightened the importance of grassroots and faith-based organisations to Syrians’ daily survival. The thesis speaks to recent debates on “mobility” in the Anthropology of Humanitarianism, Forced Migration and Middle Eastern Studies. It captures intersecting transnational networks of two populations that often remain invisible to policymakers and academics: marginalized rural Syrians that come from, migrate and flee to remote borderlands in the Levant, and Evangelical humanitarians who operate mostly under the radar of the mainstream aid industry and host states. To make sense of the spatial deployment of refugees and Evangelical aid workers during the Syrian conflict, current displacement has to be understood in the context of more longstanding mobility schemes in the Middle East and beyond. My thesis examines the experiences of displaced people and those who assist them through a transnational lens. It does so by studying old and new cross-border flows of people, as well as practices and resources that help poor Syrians survive and Christian charities turn into professional aid providers. From an epistemological point of view, my thesis demonstrates that the study of refugees trapped in exile can heighten our understanding of mobilities in territories that have become inaccessible to anthropologists because of conflict. From a conceptual perspective, it helps us comprehend that forced migration is not a one-way street, but often embedded into more complex patterns of movement, including those of aid providers. Lastly, through revisiting connections between transnational mobility, labour and legality, the thesis highlights global convergences between control mechanisms of humanitarian governance of the displaced in the Global South, and the policing of mobile populations in the Global North.