The Fragile Obligation: Gratitude, Discontent, and Dissent with Syrian Refugees in Canada
Keywords:Syrian, Mothers, Refugee, Emotions, Canada, Resettlement
AbstractThis article analyzes the emotional lives of Syrian refugee mothers in the first year of their recent resettlement in Canada. Drawing on two waves of interviews with 41 newcomer mothers, we find three main affective themes in their resettlement narratives: gratitude, discontent, and dissent. Together, they capture a reality we term the fragile obligation, which reflects coexisting conditions of migratory indebtedness, disappointment, and critique. Inspired by foundational work in Critical Refugee Studies and Asian American/Ethnic Studies, centering refugee affect holds promise for revising dominant scholarly theories of immigrant integration, assimilation, and belonging from migrants’ perspectives in an era of widespread backlash, especially against Syrian and MENA/Muslim immigrants and refugees. By identifying complex post-migration affective states like the fragile obligation, researchers can help build more effective policies and practices to support Syrians and other forced migrants.
Abbas, Madeline-Sophie. “Producing ‘Internal Suspect Bodies’: Divisive Effects of UK Counter-Terrorism Measures on Muslim Communities in Leeds and Bradford.” The British Journal of Sociology 70, no. 1 (2019): 261–82. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-4446.12366.
Ahmed, Sara. “Affective Economies.” Social Text 22 (2004): 117–39.
Alhayek, Katty. “Double Marginalization: The Invisibility of Syrian Refugee Women’s Perspectives in Mainstream Online Activism and Global Media.” Feminist Media Studies 14, no. 4 (2014): 696–700. https://doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2014.935205.
Amarasingam, Amarnath, Gayathri Naganathan, and Jennifer Hyndman. “Canadian Multiculturalism as Banal Nationalism: Understanding Everyday Meanings Among Sri Lankan Tamils in Toronto.” Canadian Ethnic Studies 48, no. 2 (2016): 119–41. https://doi.org/10.1353/ces.2016.0016.
Armbruster, Heidi. “‘It was the Photograph of the Little Boy’: Reflections on the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme in the UK.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 42, no. 15 (2019): 2680–99. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2018.1554226.
Berg, Ulla D. and Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas. “Racializing Affect: A Theoretical Proposition.” Current Anthropology 56, no. 5 (2015): 654–77. https://doi.org/10.1086/683053.
Berlant, Lauren. The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822398639.
Bloemraad, Irene. “Becoming a Citizen in the United States and Canada: Structured Mobilization and Immigrant Political Incorporation.” Social Forces 85, no. 2 (2006): 667–95. https://doi.org/10.1353/sof.2007.0002.
Bloemraad, Irene. Understanding “Canadian Exceptionalism” in Immigration and Pluralism Policy. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute, July 2012.
Britten, Liam. “Canadians may Not be as ‘Obsessed’ over Immigration this Election, but It Remains a Key Issue for Parties.” CBC News. 7 October 2019. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/refugees-2019-election-1.5310154.
Cacho, Lisa Marie. Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected. New York: New York University Press, 2012.
Cooke, Miriam. Dancing in Damascus: Creativity, Resilience, and the Syrian Revolution. London: Routledge, 2016.
Davey, Ed and Charlotte McDonald. “More or Less: The World’s Most Diverse City.” 2016. Last modified 2021. BBC Radio 4. Produced by Laura Gray and Ed Davey. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03v1r1p.
Dawson, Carrie. “‘Treaty to Tell the Truth’: The Anti-Confessional Impulse in Canadian Refugee Writing.” Canadian Literature 234 (2017): 14–182.
Einhorn, Catrin and Jodi Kantor, “Wonder and Worry, as a Syrian Child Transforms.” New York Times. 18 December 2016. https://static01.nyt.com/images/2016/12/18/nytfrontpage/scan.pdf.
Erakat, Noura. “Arabiya Made Invisible: Between Marginalization of Agency and Silencing of Dissent.” In Arab and Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence, and Belonging, 174–83. Ed. Rabab Abdulhadi, Evelyn Alsultany, and Nadine Naber. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2011.
Espiritu, Yen Le. Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refugees. Oakland: University of California Press, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520959002.
Gowayed, Heba. “Diverging by Gender: Syrian Refugees’ Divisions of Labor and Formation of Human Capital in the United States.” Gender & Society 33, no. 2 (2019): 251–72.
Gulliver, Trevor. “Canada the Redeemer and Denials of Racism.” Critical Discourse Studies 15, no. 1 (2018): 68–86. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243218819753.
Haugen, Stacey. “‘We Feel Like We’re Home’: The Resettlement and Integration of Syrian Refugees in Smaller and Rural Canadian Communities.” Refuge: Canada’s Journal of Refugees/Refuge: revue canadienne sur les réfugiés 35, no. 2 (2019): 53–63. https://doi.org/10.7202/1064819ar.
Holzer, Elizabeth. The Concerned Women of Buduburam: Refugee Activists and Humanitarian Dilemmas. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 2015. https://doi.org/10.7591/9781501701214.
Houle, Rene. “Results from the 2016 Census: Syrian Refugees Who Resettled in Canada in 2015 and 2016.” Statistics Canada. 12 February 2019. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2019001/article/00001-eng.htm.
Hsiung, Ping-Chun. “Lives & Legacies: Focused Coding.” Lives and Legacies: A Guide to Qualitative Interviewing. August 2010. https://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~pchsiung/LAL/analysis/focusedcoding.
Kantor, Jodi and Catrin Einhorn. “Canadians Adopted Refugee Families for a Year. Then Came ‘Month 13.’” New York Times. 25 March 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/25/world/canada/syrian-refugees.html?_r=0.
Khoshgozaran, Gelare. UNdocumentary, February 2017. Text. https://gelarekhoshgozaran.com/UNdocumentary
Korteweg, Anne. “The Failures of ‘Immigrant Integration’: The Gendered Racialized Production of Non-Belonging.” Migration Studies 5, no. 3 (2017): 428–44. https://doi.org/10.1093/migration/mnx025.
Kremmel, Katrin and Brunilda Pali. “Refugee Protests and Political Agency: Framing Dissensus through Precarity.” In Green Harms and Crimes. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137456267_13.
Kymlicka, Will. Multiculturalism Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).
Kymlicka, Will. “Multicultural Odysseys.” Ethnopolitics 6, no. 4 (2007): 585–97.
Kyriakides, Christopher, Lubna Bajjali, Arthur McLuhan, and Karen Anderson. “Beyond Refuge: Contested Orientalism and Persons of Self-Rescue.” Canadian Ethnic Studies 50, no. 2 (2018): 59–78. https://doi.org/10.1353/ces.2018.0015.
Ljunggren, David and Anna Mehler Paperny Reuters. “Justin Trudeau Tweets Messages of Welcome to Refugees as Trump Travel Bans Sets In.” Global News. 28 January 2017. https://globalnews.ca/news/3212041/justin-trudeau-refugees-donald-trump-travel-ban/.
Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.
Maghbouleh, Neda, Laila Omar, Melissa A. Milkie, and Ito Peng. “Listening in Arabic: Feminist Research with Syrian Refugee Mothers.” Meridians 18, no. 2 (2019): 482–507. https://doi.org/10.1215/15366936-7789739.
Manalansan IV, Martin F. “The ‘Stuff’ of Archives: Mess, Migration, and Queer Lives.” Radical History Review 120 (2014): 94–107. https://doi.org/10.1215/01636545-2703742.
Murray, David A. B. Real Queer? Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Refugees in the Canadian Refugee Apparatus. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
Naber, Nadine Christine. Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism. New York: New York University Press, 2012.
Nagra, Baljit and Ito Peng. “Has Multiculturalism Really Failed? A Canadian Muslim Perspective.” Religions 4, no. 4 (2013): 603–20. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel4040603.
Nancarrow Clarke, Juanne and Taylor Marlow. “The Cracks in our Admired Private Refugee Sponsorship Program.” Policy Opinions. 30 January 2020. https://policyoptions.irpp.org/fr/magazines/january-2020/the-cracks-in-our-admired-private-refugee-sponsorship-program/.
Nayeri, Dina. The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You. Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2019.
Ngai, Sianne. Ugly Feelings. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.
Nguyen, Mimi Thi. The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822391845.
Pedersen, Marianne Holm. Iraqi Women in Denmark: Ritual Performance and Belonging in Everyday Life. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014.
Pratt, Anna and Mariana Valverde. “From Deserving Victims to ‘Masters of Confusion’: Redefining Refugees in the 1990s.” The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers Canadiens De Sociologie 27, no. 2 (2002): 135–61. https://doi.org/10.2307/3341708.
Rutherford, Danilyn. “Affect Theory and the Empirical.” Annual Review of Anthropology 45 (2016): 285–300.
Sales, Rosemary. “The Deserving and the Undeserving? Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Welfare in Britain.” Critical Social Policy 22, no. 3 (August 2002): 456–78. https://doi.org/10.1177/026101830202200305.
Sheff, Thomas. “Shame and the Social Bond: A Sociological Theory.” Sociological Theory 18, no 1 (2000): 84–99. https://doi.org/10.1111/0735-2751.00089.
Taha, Dina. “‘Like a Tree Without Leaves’: Syrian Refugee Women and the Shifting Meaning of Marriage.” Mashriq & Mahjar 7, no. 1 (2020): 1–26. https://doi.org/10.24847/77i2020.245.
Tammas, Rifaie. “Refugee stories can do more harm than good.” OpenDemocracy. 1 November 2019. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/refugee-stories-could-do-more-harm-good/.
Tyyskä, Vappu, Jenna Blower, Samantha Deboer, Shunya Kawai, and Ashley Walcott. “Canadian Media Coverage of the Syrian Refugee Crisis: Representation, Response, and Resettlement.” Geopolitics, History and International Relations 10, no. 1 (2018): 148–66.
UNHCR. “Amid Record High Global Displacement, UN Refugee Agency Calls for International Solidarity, Welcomes Canadian Generosity towards Refugees.” UNHCR. 19 June 2019. https://www.unhcr.ca/news/amid-record-high-global-displacement-unhcr-welcomes-canadian-generosity-towards-refugees/.
Vandevoordt, Robin and Gert Verschraegen. “Demonstrating Deservingness and Dignity. Symbolic Boundary Work among Syrian Refugees.” Poetics 76 (2019): 101343. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.poetic.2018.12.004.
Weems, Lisa. Staging Dissent: Young Women of Color and Transnational Activism. London: Routledge, 2017. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315454771.
Copyright (c) 2021 Maleeha Iqbal, Laila Omar, Neda Maghbouleh
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, which allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).
The content of this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.