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The Uncertain Position of Syrian Men in the Refugee Response

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The humanitarian sector designates Syrian women and children as ‘the most vulnerable,’ thereby constituting them as uncontroversial objects of humanitarian care and control. But Syrian men have an undefined and thus uncertain place in the refugee response. This uncertainty is often signified by an apparent absence, by a seemingly unquestioned focus on refugee ‘womenandchildren.’ Based on twelve months of fieldwork in Jordan, and drawing on agnotological approaches that emphasize the socially constructed nature of ignorance, doubt, and uncertainty, this paper critically interrogates this uncertain and undefined position. It argues that it is created through the position of ‘gender’ in humanitarian work, ‘global’ understandings of victimhood and vulnerability, and the gendering, racialization and securitization of the ‘Arab male’. While Syrian men are typically not understood as subjects that the refugee response should primarily be serving, humanitarian actors nevertheless cannot readily define themselves as ‘against’ or ‘uninterested in’ a particular demographic. The result is that Syrian men have a socially constructed, and politically potent, undefined position in the refugee response.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Migration Society series.

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