Shouldering the Refugee Burden: Jordanian Sovereignty and the Global Refugee Crisis

By Rawan Arar
Submitted to Session P4745 ((Im)Mobilizing Agency in the Context of Short, Medium, and Long-term Displacement in Jordan, 2017 Annual Meeting
Diaspora/Refugee Studies; State Formation;
LCD Projector without Audio;
While the majority of Syrian refugees are hosted in the Middle East, the question of sovereignty for major refugee receiving states is largely neglected by policymakers and academics. Like states in the Global North, Jordan has concerns over porous borders and international involvement, both of which are theorized to contribute to the erosion of state sovereignty. Jordan must simultaneously accept millions of refugees while maintaining final authority over internal and external affairs of the state. Given the challenges of refugee reception, how does Jordan maintain sovereignty?

To answer this question, I build upon theoretical literature that identifies sovereignty as a social construct. I examine empirical questions that speak to the components of sovereignty including territory, authority, population, and recognition (Biersteker and Weber 1996). I operationalize Jordanian sovereignty by identifying policies, practices, and performances that permit the state to (a) maintain final authority, (b) define its territory, (c) create insiders and outsiders within its population, and (d) promote international recognition. Simultaneously, I consider bottom-up effects by analyzing how the quotidian actions of refugees and citizens influence the behaviors of government officials. Through in-depth interviews in Arabic and English with refugees, citizens, and UN and government officials, I investigate the effects of the “refugee burden” on Jordanian sovereignty.