Middle East

Between 2015 and 2017, we worked on a Swiss-funded project, which explored the role of local politics and political economy in shaping responses to Syrian refugees.

  • Beirut, Lebanon

    Beirut, Lebanon

    Ali Ali

The research focuses on understanding the politics behind the response of those three main host countries, and particularly their approaches to socio-economic inclusion. Based on fieldwork and elite interviews in all three countries we examine 1) the trajectory of each country’s response the Syrian influx between 2011 and 2016; 2) the variation in response at the sub-national level within each country. In addition to data collection at the capital city level, we focus on three different sites in each host country. In Turkey, we focus on Izmir, Gaziantep, and Adana. In Jordan, we focus on Mafraq, Sahaab, and Za’arqua. In Lebanon, we focus on areas with predominantly Christian, Sunni, and Shia populations with different historical relationships with Syria and Syrian migrant.

While we find commonalities in the trajectories of the three countries’ national policies, we find variation at the sub-national level, whether at municipal or governorate levels. In some areas, there is greater openness and tolerance to refugees than others. Two broad sets of factors appear to have shaped this variation at the sub-national level: identity and interests. The main identity-based factors have been political parties (Turkey), tribes (Jordan), and confessionalism (Lebanon). Meanwhile, in terms of interests, powerful elites within local politics have sometimes engaged in policy entrepreneurship depending on whether they have stood to gain from representing Syrian refugees as threat or opportunity.

The intended contribution of this paper is two-fold. First, it seeks to offer situation-specific insights relevant to understanding the regional response to the Syrian refugee influx. Second, it begins to provide insights into how policy-makers and academics can develop better analytical tools to identify opportunities to influence sub-national refugee politics. In order to make these contributions, the paper is structured in five main parts: first, it offers a theoretical framework for understanding the politics of the Syrian refugee crisis; then it applies this framework to look specifically at each of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, before concluding with situation-specific and more generic implications.