Skip to main content

Turner, L. (2020). #Refugees can be entrepreneurs too!’ Humanitarianism, race, and the marketing of Syrian refugees. Review of International Studies46(1), pp.137-155.


In the context of a greater focus on the politics of migration, the ‘refugee entrepreneur’ has become an increasingly important figure in humanitarian, media, and academic portrayals of refugees. Through a focus on Jordan's Za‘tari refugee camp, which has been deemed a showcase for refugees’ ‘entrepreneurship’, this article argues that the designation of Syrian refugees as ‘entrepreneurs’ is a positioning of Syrians within colonial hierarchies of race that pervade humanitarian work. For many humanitarian workers in Jordan, Syrians' ‘entrepreneurship’ distinguishes them from ‘African’ refugees, who are imagined as passive, impoverished, and dependent on humanitarian largesse. Without explicit racial comparisons, humanitarian agencies simultaneously market Syrian refugees online as ‘entrepreneurs’, to enable them to be perceived as closer to whiteness, and to thereby render them more acceptable to Western audiences and donors, who are imagined as white. This article extends scholarly understandings of the understudied relationship between race and humanitarianism. Furthermore, it asks critical questions about the political work and effects of vision of the ‘refugee entrepreneur’, which it locates within the context of the increasingly neoliberalised refugee regime. ‘Refugee entrepreneurs’ do not need political support and solidarity, but to be allowed to embrace the forces of free-market capitalism.


  • Introduction
  • Race, refugees, and International Relations
  • Za‘tari refugee camp and its market
  • ‘The Syrians are amazing!’ Syrian ‘entrepreneurship’ and humanitarian anti-blackness
  • ‘You wouldn’t mind if they moved into your neighbourhood’: Marketing Za‘tari’s ‘entrepreneurs’
  • Conclusion