Beyond Citizenship: The Impact of Non-Citizens on State-Society Relations

By Lillian Frost
Submitted to Session P5275 (Understanding Citizenship and State-Society Relations in MENA, 2018 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
All Middle East; Jordan;
19th-21st Centuries; Diaspora/Refugee Studies; Identity/Representation; Nationalism;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region currently hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, with massive flows of Syrians recently adding onto the prolonged displacement of Palestinian, Sahrawi, Iraqi, and Somali refugees. By United Nations standards, the Syrian refugees have now joined these other groups as protracted refugees (PRs), which are groups of 25,000 or more refugees with the same nationality living in the same country for at least five years (UNHCR 2014). This flow of people across borders and continued increase in PR populations raises serious questions about the content of state-society relations in MENA. Specifically, what does citizenship mean when millions are displaced and residing outside of their home state? How do PRs influence citizenship in their host state, and how can we capture the relationship between host states and PRs?

Much research evaluates how states treat refugees as well as the impacts of these groups on the host state’s economy and foreign relations. However, this paper focuses on how refugees can influence host states’ social compacts and conceptions of citizenship. PRs challenge traditional notions of citizenship because they interact with the state much like citizens, demanding rights in exchange for fulfilling duties, but they lack citizenship status—and often any pathway to it. This situation demands a fresh examination of citizenship as well as the conceptual development of “noncitizenship” in these contexts.

This paper describes noncitizenship and demonstrates its importance in explaining state-society relations. Specifically, I flesh out noncitizenship by pulling from the budding interdisciplinary literature on this concept (e.g., Tonkiss and Bloom 2015; Plotke 2014) as well as Arabic distinctions between “muwatana” and “jinsiyya” (Davis 2000). In addition, I engage evidence from Jordan’s policies over time toward two noncitizen PR groups, the Gazan and Syrian refugees. Jordan hosts the largest number of PRs in the world, making it a critical case to examine. The Gazan and Syrian case studies draw from 170 interviews I conducted from 2016–2017 in Jordan with government officials, activists, lawyers, and refugees. These cases highlight that the types of rights the Jordanian government offers noncitizen PRs reflects those offered to its own citizens. They also reveal some of the blurry lines in practice between citizen and noncitizen, along with the debates these lines raise. Altogether, this analysis demonstrates how noncitizenship challenges the boundaries of state citizenship and helps explicate broader state-society relations.