Iraqi Migrants in Syria: The Crisis before the Storm by Sophia Hoffmann (review)
- Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies
- Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies
- Volume 5, Number 1, 2018
- Additional Information
Mashriq & Mahjar 5, no. 1 (201S), 132-135 ISSN 2169-4435 SOPHIA HOFFMANN, Iraqi Migrants in Syria: The Crisis before the Storm (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2016). Pp. 264. $65.00 cloth, $29.95 paperback. REVIEWED BY NELL GABIAM, Department of World Languages and Cultures and Department of Political Science, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa; email: email@example.com Sophia Hoffmann's book, Iraqi Migrants in Syria: The Crisis before the Storm, offers a detailed account of the interactions between Iraqis displaced by war and instability in their country, the Syrian government, and international NGOs operating in prewar Syria. According to Hoffmann, by 2007, the situation of Iraqis in Syria was becoming increasingly visible in the international sphere, prompting a series of humanitarian interventions based on internationally hegemonic standards of nationalism and liberalism. One of the book's main claims is that the norms associated with the hegemonic standards introduced by international aid organizations would have a notable effect on the Syrian government's understanding and practice of state sovereignty and on its policy toward Iraqi refugees. The book is based on seven months of ethnographic fieldwork carried out in 2009 and 2010, while Hoffmann was living in the Damascene suburb of Jaramana, which at the time was host to a significant number of displaced Iraqis. Hoffmann's fieldwork consisted of interviews with Iraqi refugees, Syrian aid-workers, and the expatriate managers of aid organizations, as well as participant observation with two NGOs, one ofwhich was involved in interactions with larger United Nations organizations. As the title indicates, Syria went from being a major host country for Iraqi refugees in the first decade of the twenty-first century to being ensnared in a war that has generated close to five million Syrian refugees. While Hoffmann's book focuses on the lives of Iraqis in prewar Syria, its broader conclusions seek to address recent events in Syria as well. For example, Hoffmann argues that the Iraqi refugee crisis served as an incubator for the massive, international aid apparatus that has, "since 2007," become entrenched in the Middle East (p. 2). Her book provides interesting and useful insights into the events, politics, and ideas that shaped the international aid sector's© Moise A. Khayrallah Centerfor Lebanese Diaspora Studies 2018 Reviews 133 current involvement in the Middle East, which largely focuses on Syrian refugees. One of Hoffmann's major arguments is that international aid organizations assisting Iraqi refugees introduced a different concept of "statecitizen " relations and a different concept of "statehood" into Syria. The expansion of the international aid sector, she contends, resulted in a transition from a more flexible and fluid relationship between the Syrian host government and displaced Iraqis living in Syria to a stricter one that carved Iraqis as clear outsiders in relation to the Syrian nation. Iraqis went from being "brothers" or "guests" to being clearly marked a "migrants" or "refugees"categories that set them apart as fundamentally different from Syrians on the basis of their nationality. Hoffmann points out that, compared to Europe's increasingly draconian policies toward migrants, the (prewar) Syrian government engaged in a rather liberal, laissez-faire attitude toward the hundreds of thousands ofiraqi refugees who began to appear in Syria after the 2003 US invasion ofIraq. The Syrian government's more flexible engagement with Iraqi refugees meant that many Iraqis were able to find work despite lacking the official right to do so, and enjoy de facto residency and freedom of mobility, regardless of whether or not they were officially registered as refugees. The above leads Hoffmann to conclude that Iraqis encountered more freedoms in Syria than those allocated to migrants in supposedly liberal Western states. She persuasively contends that the Syrian government's authoritarian character and its liberal attitude toward migrants are not in tension with each other. It is precisely the Syrian government's illiberal character that explains the relative freedom that Iraqis and other migrants enjoy in Syria. Indeed, Hoffmann argues that, in prewar Syria, allegiance to the Syrian government (whether or not one was a Syrian national) was more important than whether or not one belonged to the body national. As long as migrants "accepted the limitations of life...