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


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is house to a sizeable Syrian neighborhood, a majority of whom have arrived there as short-term migrant employees following the oil increase within the Seventies. Lots of them stayed on with their households, resulting in second and third era UAE-born Syrians residing within the UAE below short-term renewable visas, as a result of strict migration regimes that forestall everlasting settlement and naturalisation of most migrants within the UAE. Whereas this neighborhood’s multigenerational existence within the UAE might recommend that they’re short-term on paper solely, the conflict in Syria has had vital results on their sense of long-term safety within the UAE, in addition to their world mobility as Syrian passport holders. In consequence, most of them have robust incentives to try to circumvent each the restrictions tied to their citizenship by delivery, and their short-term standing within the UAE, by pursuing ‘stronger’ passports from elsewhere.

My analysis with UAE-born Syrians between 2016 and 2020 explored their issues 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 on the market 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 asylum-seeking in a 3rd nation. Drawing on debates on strategic citizenship and complicated 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, comparable to between short-term 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 could 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 term visas and even pathways to Emirati citizenship lately, these reforms solely goal extremely expert migrants, entrepreneurs, and traders (Fattah and Abu Omar 2021). Thus, the vast majority of migrants within the UAE are regulated by renewable, sponsored, short-term visas, referred to 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 differ traditionally and occupationally. A few of them have arrived as early because the Nineteen Fifties and Sixties to work in expert jobs comparable to judges, academics, 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).

Presently, an estimated 242,000 Syrians dwell within the UAE, and the UAE authorities has acknowledged that 100,000 of them have entered the UAE for the reason that begin of the battle in 2011 (De Bel-Air, 2015: 10). While political instability at house makes the Gulf States a lovely 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 the kafala system, and aren’t provided formal provisions for safer residency, or safety from deportation (see The Nationwide, 2018, for advert hoc resolutions for Syrians within the UAE).

Though Syrians might discover strategic options to fight their short-term state of affairs within the UAE, their skill to take action is finally decided by class, social networks, in addition to their nationality (Ruhs, 2013; Vora, 2013; Valenta, 2020). Geopolitical issues 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 issues, comparable to conflict in origin international locations, form Gulf migrants’ need and skill to maneuver onwards, and the advanced pathways they develop to entry the long-term safety of an alternate passport. We additionally must pay specific 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 short-term’ is intergenerational within the Gulf States, that means that kids of short-term employees inherit their mother and father’ citizenship and immigration standing by delivery, is a novel case to introduce to the examine of citizenship and migration.

UAE-born Syrians are a great instance. Because the begin of the Syrian civil conflict 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 severe implications, starting from not having the ability to enrol kids in colleges, to not having the ability to work and earn a residing wage (De Bel-Air, 2015:11). Furthermore, so as to renew short-term visas within the UAE, migrants must have a legitimate passport. Nonetheless, political instability in Syria impacts the Syrian authorities’ skill or need 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 price, 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 situation and renew globally (Alarabiya, 2017).

If Syrians within the UAE lose their short-term work or residency visas, their choices of transferring to a 3rd nation are extraordinarily restricted, contemplating that Syrian passports have misplaced most of their worth by way of stability and mobility as a result of conflict, 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’ shouldn’t be a viable choice. In actual fact, UAE-born Syrians can develop into refugees in the event that they lose their short-term residency (see Babar, Ewers and Khattab 2018, 1554). On this context, a rich minority of Syrians within the UAE purchases passports by ‘Citizenship by Funding’ programmes (Maceda, 2018). For center class Syrians, like different Gulf migrants, migrating to a Western nation for greater schooling or work, within the hope of ultimately naturalising, can be a typical technique (Ali, 2011). Nonetheless, examine 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 examine reveals. Importantly, it is a results of having no acceptable alternate options to their unstable authorized standing within the Gulf. This brings me to briefly assessment the prevailing conceptual debates on strategic citizenship and complicated onward migration journeys.

Results of conflict at ‘house’ on short-term migrants

Within the context of a worldwide inequality, the place people’ mobility in addition to residential safety is decided 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 issues are prevalent globally and they’re integral to the replica of world inequalities premised in citizenship, offering a central context to know why an alternate passport is interesting to sure populations. As an illustration, residential insecurity, arising from restrictive citizenship and immigration insurance policies, is straight 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 issues, comparable to conflict, or common political instability, situation the demand for one more passport, because it gives means for primary safety and a particular place to dwell in a worldwide context of hostile border regimes. Thus, a liminal authorized standing amongst migrants who might 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).

With a view to have a fuller image of when, how, for whom and in what contexts citizenship issues – necessary questions that require additional consideration and investigation in citizenship research (Bloemraad and Sheares, 2017) –, it’s vital 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 necessary conceptual discussions in migration research, comparable to on volition, company, and migrant decision-making. In consequence, the experiences of people that attempt to entry the safety provided by stronger passports is commonly studied by a binary lens of pressured migrants, e.g. asylum seekers and refugees (Kibreab, 2003; Miller, 2001; Gibney, 2014), versus strategic naturalisers, comparable 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 short-term migration regimes like within the UAE, migrants are at perpetual threat of shedding residency rights no matter their citizenship. However ought to their house international locations expertise sudden shifts in political circumstances, this threat grows exponentially, resulting in a perceived necessity for citizenship acquisition from elsewhere. This course of could 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, nonetheless, can’t be captured by prevailing classes, comparable to between short-term/everlasting and compelled/voluntary types of migration. By assuming that folks transfer in linear trend, these descriptive classes are likely to ignore that experiences in addition to motivations of people can change over area and time, comparable 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 deliver ahead (2018). Circumstances are key in understanding volition in migration choices, as a result of they (re)form the essential wants of migrants of their specific context, in addition to a variety of alternate options obtainable 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 focus on. 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 short-term residents, due to what is occurring in Syria, the nation they maintain passports from. It’s within the context of those altering circumstances that they think about, or expertise, onward migration journeys, basically questioning dichotomous migration classes, and illustrating a brand new instance of a posh migration trajectory (see Snel, Bilgili and Staring 2020).

First, the dichotomy between pressured versus voluntary migration fails to account for the temporal and circumstantial features of Gulf migrants’ onward journeys to Western international locations. The experiences of Syrians holding short-term residencies within the UAE will not be thought of as unstable to the identical extent as these fleeing conflict in Syria. Nonetheless, a sudden shift in political circumstances, comparable to conflict in Syria, might 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 skill 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 provided within the UAE, their experiences are higher understood as ‘being pressured to depart’, even when they migrate onwards below so known as voluntary classes, comparable to for schooling or work.

Second, pondering of migrants within the UAE and the Gulf by way of both everlasting or short-term limits our understanding of the that 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 short-term or everlasting (see Bailey, 2002, Rajkumar et.al, 2012), there’s an ongoing, Eurocentric notion that perceives all short-term residencies of migrants as transit locations, or in different phrases ‘meaningless short-term refuges earlier than migrants attain their ultimate vacation spot’ (Snel, Bilgili and Staring 2020, 4). This could be the case for stepwise migrants within the Gulf, who’ve pre-determined targets of onward migration to Western international locations, and who take particular actions to attain that (Valenta, 2020). Nonetheless, this notion ignores the distinctive state of affairs of Gulf-born migrants, who regardless of being labelled as short-term, are de facto from the Gulf, and understand these locations as their major house. In actual fact, for many of them, migrating to a 3rd nation is seen as a short lived step to amass citizenship and ultimately return to the Gulf with a ‘stronger passport’ (see Akinci, 2019; Jamal, 2017; Ali, 2011; Surak, 2021, 177). This reveals that limiting paths to citizenship within the Gulf has necessary results on the way in which migrants understand the worth and that means of citizenship typically.

Conclusion and Outlook

By way of the experiences of UAE born Syrians, I illustrated how in restrictive migration contexts comparable to within the UAE, a sudden shift in political circumstances in origin international locations, such because the on-going conflict in Syria, straight 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 skill to maneuver onwards is constrained by strict border regimes, even for these with ample monetary belongings. This paper argues that when migrants don’t have any manner of acquiring citizenship in a bunch nation, and have restricted (or no) choices for residential safety elsewhere, their onward journeys to amass passports could be framed as strategic, however not voluntary. That is notably the case for migrants who had been born and raised in host states, however who inherited an absence 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 reveals. Even when these populations have ample sources to maneuver onwards below ‘voluntary classes’, comparable to for work, greater 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 depart”. Furthermore, their onward journeys are sometimes described by migrants as a short lived step that permits them to amass a (Western) passport to return ‘house’ – to the UAE – ‘completely’. In so doing, this contribution gives 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 an alternate citizenship.

The main target of future educational inquiry shouldn’t be on whether or not to classify migrants comparable to those that had been the topic of this textual content as short-term or everlasting, voluntary or pressured, however to know what pushes them to hunt various permanencies elsewhere, and below what circumstances. This additionally requires us to deliver debates on strategic citizenship and complicated migration journeys nearer collectively, as altering circumstances can straight 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 issues that inform border coverage making, related advanced journeys could be foreseen amongst different migrant teams within the UAE, and wider Gulf, in addition to in different short-term migration contexts. Most not too long ago, as we witness the Taliban take over Afghanistan, and subsequent tales of former President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan civilians taking ‘refuge’ or short-term 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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