Negotiating mobility across regimes of sovereignty: displaced Iraqis between Jordan and Iraq

By Geraldine Chatelard
Submitted to Session P4745 ((Im)Mobilizing Agency in the Context of Short, Medium, and Long-term Displacement in Jordan, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Diaspora/Refugee Studies;
Back and forth circulation between Jordan and Iraq has been an important aspect of the livelihood and, at times, a thwarted aspiration of many Iraqis displaced to Jordan before and after the 2003 change of regime in their home county. Even after seeking security and establishing a foothold in Jordan, including by claiming refugee status, individuals have been pursuing familial strategies and sought to access economic, professional, educational and other resources in Iraq. My presentation will first explore why cross-border mobility is important for displaced Iraqis, and why the relevant opportunity and security context they consider encompasses both Jordan and Iraq despite continued instability at home. To exert this dimension of their agency, people must negotiate different regimes of sovereignty and related legal statuses. I will therefore examine the web and intersections of legal and administrative constraints governing the movements of Iraqis between the two countries. These include Iraqi government policies on emigration and emigrants – particularly with relations to Iraqis living in Jordan or striving to exit Iraq towards Jordan; the domestic policies of Jordan on the entry, stay and work of Iraqis; and the humanitarian regime that categorizes many Iraqis in Jordan as refugees thereby frustrating their aspirations to move temporarily across the border with Iraq. That refugees may actively seek to maintain physical relations with their home country contradicts a conceptualization of refugeeness informed by international legal norms, a perspective prevalent across the social sciences. Thus, recognizing that refugees as agents may pursue security, livelihoods and futures concomitantly in their host and origin countries poses theoretical and methodological challenges which I will lay out in conclusion. This presentation will draw on fifteen years of research engagement with Iraqi migration, and include interviews with Iraqi refugees, migrants and non-migrants, government officials, and employees of humanitarian organizations in Jordan and Iraq, together with the examination of official documents.