Iraqi Refugees: The Salience of Ethnic Identity in Diaspora

By Kristen Kao
Submitted to Session P2243 (Generations in Diaspora: Representations and the Self, 2009 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Iraq; Jordan; Syria;
Diaspora/Refugee Studies; Ethnic Groups; Identity/Representation; Information Technology/Computing;
My current research looks at the effects of refugee status on shifting modes of identity, focusing on the case of Iraqi refugees. This research proposal follows up a study that included a representative survey of Iraqis still living in the country from 2004-2006 (Inglehart et al 2006). The results of these surveys indicate that the tendency of Iraqis towards xenophobia and in-group solidarity is among the highest of any group in the world, not only among compatriots versus other nationalities, but also between the major ethnic groups within Iraqi society.

I want to examine what happens to identity, as well as xenophobia and in-group solidarity, for Iraqis who have fled the country. What is the role of Sunni, Shia, Christian or Kurd identity for Iraqi refugees? To what extent do these identities remain salient outside of Iraq, particularly as the security situation changes, and what is their effect on the ability of refugees to survive in a foreign society? Finally, I would like to look at the role of the Internet in keeping Iraqi refugees connected across long distances, which may help to establish a means of contacting a large enough sample of them for this project.

In order to analyze the questions laid out above, I will run surveys and/or focus groups in a number of possible host-countries for Iraqi refugees. One aspect of this study will be the creation of an Internet survey, one that could be emailed possibly using adaptive sampling techniques to reach the widest population possible. Currently the highest proportions of Iraqi refugees live in Jordan and Syria. I will be spending time in these areas during this summer. Through some contacts I have at the UNHCR, I am hoping to get some access to Iraqi refugee families and carry out an informal pilot study to test the feasibility of this project.

The results of this study would test the argument put forth in the study referred to above that existential insecurity leads to increased xenophobia and in-group solidarity in a different setting. Further, it will add insight into the salience of ethnic identity across borders. Finally, it will examine the role of the Internet in keeping diaspora communities connected and the feasibility of using internet-based methods for gathering information on refugees.