In the Skies Over Sofia: Place(s) in Displacement for Syrian Women in Bulgaria


  • Ann-Christin Zuntz University of Edinburgh
  • Marina Kaneti National University of Singapore



Syrian mobilities, policy labels, place, displacement, Bulgaria


This article shows that policy categories such as “refugees” and “migrants” fail to capture the complex reasons why people move during conflict and how they experience place(s) in displacement. Drawing on ethnographic interviews conducted in the summer of 2021, we explore the ways in which three Syrian women, whose lives have been affected by displacement in complex ways, emplace themselves in Sofia. Although policymakers consider Bulgaria a transit country for refugees on the so-called Western Balkan route, some Syrians have stayed after 2011. Their choice can only be understood in the context of longstanding trade and marital migrations encompassing the Mediterranean and its hinterlands, and we thus develop a mobile and dynamic understanding of Syrians’ acts of emplacement: they may be localized in Sofia, but they also unfold against the backdrop of transnational networks. However, we do not romanticize ideas of constant fluidity. Rather, we put place back into displacement, demonstrating that women’s lives and migratory projects are shaped by the places they pass through, and that they leave an imprint on transitory and more permanent homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods in Sofia, with all the tensions and contradictions that this entails.

Author Biographies

Ann-Christin Zuntz, University of Edinburgh

Dr. Ann-Christin Zuntz is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She is an economic anthropologist, with a focus on the intersections of labor, migrations, and gender in the Mediterranean. For her British Academy-funded project "BROKERS OF DISPLACEMENT” (2022–26), she conducts ethnographic research with Syrian communities and their intermediaries in Tunisia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Jordan, and the United Kingdom. In 2023, together with Syrian researchers from Edinburgh’s interdisciplinary One Health FIELD Network, Ann co-published a documentary on Syrian refugees’ (agri)cultural heritage:  

Marina Kaneti, National University of Singapore

Marina Kaneti is Assistant Professor in International Affairs at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. She draws on political theory and visual politics to explore questions of global governance including matters of mobility, climate change, and global order. Her work appears in many peer-reviewed journals, such as Citizenship Studies, Human Rights Review, etc. She is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Genealogy of the migrant image: from Ah Sin to AI.


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