Special Issue in JEMS

Unsettling Protracted Displacement: Connectivity and Mobility beyond Limbo

Key results and reflections from the TRAFIG project have just been published in a special issue in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (JEMS).

The 9 contributions present novel insights of empirical research in African, Asian and European countries on the role of connectivity and mobility in the lives of displaced people, they critically engage with policies, legal frameworks and structures that keep displaced people in an ongoing state of limbo, they reflect upon the concept of protracted displacement and seek to advance its understanding, and they employ a figurational approach in their analysis.

All 9 articles are freely accessible via the publishers website:

1 Introduction: Unsettling Protracted Displacement: Connectivity and Mobility beyond Limbo

Benjamin Etzold (Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies, BICC) and Anne-Meike Fechter (University of Sussex)

DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2022.2090153

Abstract: Conventional understandings of protracted displacement are limited by a number of shortcomings. They imply the stasis of protracted situations; the passivity and disconnection of vulnerable groups who need external support; and immobility of people ‘stuck’ in places. Moreover, solutions to protracted displacement are based on the priorities of states and defined by the perspectives of humanitarian organisations. In contrast, this special issue seeks to advance scholarly and policy debates in order to advocate for more nuanced understandings and genuinely supportive practices of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). This is realised through the framework of social figurations of displacement, documenting how these evolve over time, and highlighting the structural forces that perpetuate conditions of displacement. Articles in this special issue demonstrate the agency, resilience and transformative power that lies in displaced persons’ everyday practices. They foreground the role of multiple mobilities in displacement situations, unsettling the politicised concept of protracted displacement as an example of governance techniques that are geared towards locking the lives of forcibly displaced people in space and in time, rendering the displaced populations controllable. Recognising their mobility and connectivity can become a basis to continuously circumventing and challenging these.

2 Is translocality a hidden solution to overcome protracted displacement in the DR Congo?

Carolien Jacobs (Leiden University); Patrick Milabyo Kyamusugulwa; Stanislas Lubala Kubiha; Innocent Assumani; Joachim Ruhamya; Rachel Sifa Katembera (The Social Science Centre for African Development-KUTAFITI)

DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2022.2090154

Abstract: Policy makers and practitioners usually focus on three durable solutions for IDPs to overcome protracted displacement; return, resettlement and local integration. Based on empirical realities, this paper asks to what extent translocality can be seen as another solution. Drawing on qualitative and quantitative data from the city of Bukavu in eastern DRC, we explore how translocality is shaped in practice and how it helps people to overcome protracted displacement. Translocality of Bukavu’s IDPs is mostly oriented towards the community of origin. We argue that this translocality requires mobility or connectivity, or a combination thereof. Mobilisation of resources in the community of origin can then contribute to the livelihoods of urban IDPs, but restraining forces beyond the control of IDPs can make this a risky and costly strategy that is not necessarily sustainable. Although translocality can address the livelihoods challenges related to protracted displacement, it cannot solve all challenges related to displacement. The paper concludes that translocality should – at most – be seen as a semi-durable and partial solution to move out of protractedness rather than as a durable solution to displacement in itself; however, addressing some of the restraining forces could make it a more durable solution.

3 A matter of time and contacts: Trans-local networks and long-term mobility of Eritrean refugees

Fekadu Adugna (Addis Ababa University); Markus Rudolf (Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies); Mulu Getachew (Addis Ababa University)

DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2022.2090155

Abstract: Eritreans have experienced protracted conflict and displacement over the last half a century. Aside from marginalisation, immobilisation, highly constrained livelihood options and legal limbo, this has also created a complex and dynamic web of transnational networks of Eritrean refugees and diasporas around the world. In this paper, we argue that protractedly displaced people are not only entangled with forced immobility but also encounter opportunities to create new migration pathways. This ethnographic study shows how protractedly displaced people build up socio-spatial connections and sequential small-scale mobility, circumventing the multiple constraints the governance regimes have placed upon them.

4 Afghans narrowing mobility options in Pakistan and the right to transnational living

Katja Mielke (Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies, BICC) and Benjamin Etzold (BICC)

DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2022.2090156

Abstract: Different types of low-scale mobility have traditionally aided Afghans in Pakistan to cope with the challenges of everyday life during forty years of displacement: cross-border and domestic movement, resource usage from assets ‘back home’, transnational networks, and circular migration conditioned by war, prospects for peace and economic opportunities. However, in the past twenty years, Afghans’ transnational living and mobility have not only become politicised, but mobility options have decreased considerably. This article analyses the underlying immobilisation dynamics, the compression of displacement dimensions, and its effects which translate into Afghans experiencing increasing immobility as forced displacement, accompanied by a feeling of protractedness after spending decades in Pakistan moving freely within the country and cross-border. Based on figurational theory, we argue that the observed linearity of immobilisation dynamics is not inevitable and discuss the potential of Afghans, the governments involved, donors and implementers to change the established figurational dependencies and possibly create alternative solutions that centre on mobility as robust right. Based on our analysis of the socio-political figuration of Afghan refugees in Pakistan – what we call the ARiP figuration – we argue that Afghans should be granted a right to transnational living and mobility.

5 The War Has Divided Us More than Ever: Syrian Refugee Family Networks and Social Capital for Mobility through Protracted Displacement in Jordan

Sarah A Tobin (Chr. Michelsen Institute, CMI); Fawwaz Momani (Yarmouk University); Tamara Al Yakoub (Yarmouk University)

DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2022.2090157

Abstract: The Syrian crisis began in 2011 in Daràa, near the southern-Syrian border, with the first refugees coming into Jordan thereafter. Over the course of the following years, nearly one million Syrian refugees migrated to Jordan and still reside there, some in the same areas in which they first settled. These settlement patterns are often portrayed in simplistic narratives of Syrian migration that emphasise mobility in a straightforward trajectory. This paper aims to unsettle such narratives by examining the role of Syrian family networks in mobility in Jordan’s northern region, particularly in and between the cities of Mafraq and Irbid, as well as the Zaatari refugee camp. Based on mixed methods, this paper examines the network factors that made Jordan the country of preference and possibility for settlement, the family networks involved in domestic mobility within Jordan, and their influences on aspirations and worries about future movements. Ultimately, the paper finds that pre-crisis economic, social, and familial networks were often employed at key decision-making moments throughout Jordan in mobility trajectories. As time has progressed, however, Syrians in Jordan reported challenges to social capital in the form of mobility assistance from their long-standing family networks.

6 On not staying put where they have put you: Mobilities disrupting the socio-spatial figurations of displacement in Greece

Eva Papatzani (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and National Technical University of Athens); Panos Hatziprokopiou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki); Filyra Vlastou-Dimopoulou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and National Technical University of Athens); Alexandra Siotou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and University of Thessaly)

DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2022.2090158

Abstract: The reception and protection system in Greece in the aftermath of the so-called refugee crisis produces a geography of specific mobility restrictions and accommodation types for migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees. These restrictions create a multi-layered landscape of displacement, dominated by three socio-spatial figurations: the forced containment of displaced people in ‘hotspots’ on eastern Aegean islands; staying in isolated and segregated camps in the mainland; and the accommodation of the most vulnerable in urban centres. At the same time, the mobility practices of displaced people often disrupt the above figurations, stemming from their survival practices and life aspirations, and largely relating to their translocal social connections. These mobilities include, but are not limited to, unregistered movements from hotspots to the mainland, mobilities from camp to camp, mobility negotiations between camp and city. This paper explores the figurations of displacement related to the impact of governance regimes on the livelihoods and mobility of displaced people in Greece. Within this frame, it focuses on the ways through which migrants and asylum-seekers negotiate, resist or transcend the geography of multiple restrictions, through translocal mobility practices that intervene and therefore reshape dominant socio-spatial figurations.

7 “Exit Italy”? Social and spatial (im)mobilities as conditions of protracted displacement

Pietro Cingolani (Università di Bologna & FIERI); Milena Belloni (Flanders Research Foundation & FIERI); Giuseppe Grimaldi (Università di Trieste & FIERI); Emanuela Roman (FIERI)

DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2022.2090159

Abstract: This article examines how the experience of protracted displacement interacts with mobility desires and practices of a diverse population of asylum-seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants in Italy. Drawing from ethnographic data collected in different Italian localities and among different nationalities, we focus on participants’ translocal connections, both as ways ‘out of limbo’ and as factors in protracted legal and socio-economic precariousness. We propose an interpretation of complex spatial mobilities to understand under what conditions spatial mobility translates into an improvement in the living conditions of migrants, producing upward socio-economic mobility, and under what conditions spatial mobility perpetuates marginality and isolation. Although translocal connections provide space for action, migrants risk being trapped in a loop of movements between different countries and different localities within Italy, without the possibility to achieve legal protection in any of these.

8 Family figurations in displacement: Entangled mobilities of refugees towards Germany and beyond

Simone Christ (German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS); and Benjamin Etzold (Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies, BICC)

DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2022.2090160

Abstract: Refugees rarely flee in isolation. Instead, their everyday lives and mobilities are fundamentally shaped by the broader set of social relations in which they are embedded, particularly by their families. Drawing on interviews with sixty displaced people living in Germany and in-depth case studies of the trajectories of refugees from Eritrea and Syria, we reconstruct the role that families and other social relations transgressing national borders have played in their mobility to Germany and how their lives have been rescaled since initial displacement. Based on central ideas from figurational sociology, which we link with scholarship on forced migration, transnationalism and family relations, our paper identifies four specific family figurations in displacement that represent typical mobility patterns and constellations of ‘doing family’ in transnational spaces: the lone yet connected traveller; the reunited nuclear family; the transnationally separated family; and the transnationally extended family. We argue that family figurations in displacement are, on the one hand, decisively shaped by specific family relations and distinct displacement trajectories with various phases of family separation and reunion. On the other hand, they are fundamentally configured by migration regimes and asylum systems that substantially constrain the opportunities to live dignified local or transnational family lives.

9 The EU and protracted displacement: providing solutions or creating obstacles?

Nuno Ferreira (University of Sussex); Pamela Kea (University of Sussex); Albert Kraler (Danube University Krems); Martin Wagner (International Centre for Migration Policy Development, ICMPD)

DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2022.2090161

Abstract: In this paper, we explore how the European Union (EU) legal and policy framework relates to protracted displacement. To this end, we examine the existing legal, policy and institutional framework both in the EU and globally, including the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), the 2015 ‘European Agenda on Migration’, and the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. Analytically, we employ Norbert Elias’ concept of ‘figurations’ as a conceptual lens to describe and identify distinct constellations of relationships, norms and social interactions between different actors shaping approaches towards protracted displacement. We argue that policies on protracted displacement are shaped by a triangle of three figurations – the migration-security figuration, the humanitarian-refugee relief figuration, and the protection-rights figuration. We trace how the migration-security figuration has gained the upper hand in recent years and what this means for EU policies addressing protracted displacement. We conclude that the EU is an actor that facilitates, rather than addresses, protracted displacement, and the Pact on Migration and Asylum further cements that role.

Latest news

Special Issue in JEMS

Unsettling Protracted Displacement: Connectivity and Mobility beyond Limbo

Key results and reflections from the TRAFIG project have just been published in a special issue in the Journal of Ethnic a... Read more

TRAFIG practice note no. 12

In the shoes of a Congolese refugee:

Online game helps to understand urban refugees' legal struggles

The TRAFIG team developed an interactive story-based online simulation to sensitise practitione... Read more

TRAFIG practice note no. 11

The missing link

Promoting refugees’ skills-based mobility within Europe

The Common European Asylum System prohibits the mobility of persons entitled to international protection within the European Union, making it more difficult for displaced persons to rebuild their lives even after arriving in Europe and receiving protection status. Recent developments soften this strict policy of immobility for some. In this context, intra-EU mobility based on refugees’ skills could become a game-changer. The tools are there. What is needed now is to connect these initiatives so that more displaced persons can use their skills for their benefit and that of receiving countries. Read more