Academic journal article Refuge

Migration, Identity, and Social Mobility among Iraqis in Egypt

Academic journal article Refuge

Migration, Identity, and Social Mobility among Iraqis in Egypt

Article excerpt


Based on a small-scale qualitative research project with Iraqis living in 6th of October City, one of Cairo's satellite cities, the paper explores the role shifting social identities play in Iraqis' experience of migration and forced displacement. In doing so, it focuses on three major themes emerging from the ethnographic material. First, it discusses the relation between social change in the homeland and other dimensions of Iraqis' belonging, particularly ethno-religious sectarianism. Secondly, it analyzes the role education and work play in the strategies refugees employ to resist dispossession, as well as in the practices through which other categories of Iraqi migrants rewrite their social identities. Finally, Iraqis' relation with Egyptian society is briefly explored. The findings are discussed in relation to existing literature about social and political change in post-2003 Iraq, but also in contemporary Egypt. In doing so, I hope to contribute to re-embed the study of Iraqi migration within the Middle East in its historical and socio-political context, moving beyond policy-driven approaches.


Basee sur une recherche qualitative a petite echelle aupres des Irakiens vivant dans la Ville du 6 octobre, une des villes satellites du Caire, cet article explore le role que tiennent les identites sociales changeantes dans l'experience que font ces Irakiens de la migration et du deplacement force. On s'y concentre plus particulierement sur trois themes majeurs ressortant du materiel ethnographique collecte. Premierement, on examine les relations entre les changements sociaux du pays d'origine et les autres dimensions de l'appartenance irakienne telles que le sectarisme ethno-religieux. Deuxiemement, on y analyse le role de l'education et du travail dans les strategies des refugies pour eviter l'appauvrissement, ainsi que dans les pratiques employees par d'autres categories de migrants irakiens pour reerire leurs identites sociales. Enfin, on y explore brievement les relations des irakiens avec la societe egyptienne. L'auteur met ses observations en relation avec les etudes effectuees au sujet des changements sociaux et politiques dans l'Irak d'apres 2003, mais egalement avec celles portant sur l'Egypte contemporaine. Cette etude vise enfin a remettre dans son contexte historique et socio-politique l'etude de la migration irakienne au sein du Moyen Orient, tout en depassant les approches centrees sur les politiques de migration.


Research on Iraqis in Egypt has stemmed from the need to provide policy responses to the refugee flow that invested Iraq's neighbouring countries after the 2003 US-led invasion. The size of the phenomenon has been much smaller in Egypt than elsewhere in the Middle East, yet existing research about Iraqis in the country is mostly emergency and policy driven. Geraldine Chatelard suggests that this approach, based on the paradigm of refugees' visibility, conceals historical continuities in over three decades of migration from Iraq. (1) Chatelard argues for re-embedding the study of Iraqi migration, looking at the role regional political and social dynamics play in determining this movement of people. (2) This paper offers a limited contribution to this theoretical re-embedding. Although the size of the study suggests cautions with theoretical generalizations, the findings resonate with some of the insights provided by existing literature on Iraqis in the region. In particular, they highlight the relevance of social mobility in Iraqis' experience of displacement and migration. They point to the importance of understanding how social class intersects other dimensions of Iraqis' identity, in particular the ethno-religious one, and how these influence their prospects for further migration and local integration. Finally, they suggest that social, as well as legal and political dynamics in the host country should not be overlooked when accounting for the experience of Iraqis displaced within the region. …

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