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  • Reluctant Reception: Refugees, Migration and Governance in the Middle East and North Africa by Kelsey P. Norman
  • Reva Dhingra (bio)
Reluctant Reception: Refugees, Migration and Governance in the Middle East and North Africa, by Kelsey P. Norman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. 260 pages. $84.99 cloth; $24.99 paper.

What explains the sharp variation in how developing states treat migrants and refugees? This question serves as the motivation for Kelsey Norman's new book Reluctant Reception. Norman presents a novel theoretical framework for understanding when states choose to adopt policies of inclusion, exclusion, or what the author coins "strategic indifference" toward migrants and refugees. Norman's contribution is part of a growing body of work that, in contrast to the majority of social science research focusing on migration from the global South to the global North, seeks to explain the conditions of migrants and refugees in developing states.

Norman's analysis focuses on "transitturned-host states"—countries that, as a result of increasing border enforcement by European states, host growing numbers of migrants and refugees. Norman argues that policies adopted toward migrants and refugees cannot be understood as a dichotomy between liberal and repressive policies. Liberal policies promoting migrant and refugee access to socioeconomic and civic rights may risk domestic backlash and require substantial resources. Repressive policies such as deportation and detention may incur international condemnation and even loss of trade access and economic benefits. However, Norman defines a third option of strategic indifference, where the state limits direct service provision and access to formal employment for refugees and migrants but allows them to remain in-country.

Norman's theorizing of strategic indifference is a novel and important contribution to the study of state responses to migration and refugee presences. In many contexts, state inaction is interpreted as a lack of capacity. Yet Norman's research demonstrates the utility of this strategy as an active policy choice for developing host states. Strategic indifference has two key benefits to states. It enables host states to attract reputational benefits and funding from international sources while expending minimal resources by allowing civil society and international actors to fill vacuums of service provision. In the meantime, migrants and refugees remain in-country with uncertain legal status and susceptibility to rapid policy change.

Through a qualitative case study analysis of Egypt's, Morocco's, and Turkey's policies toward migrants and refugees from the 1990s to the mid-2010s, Norman explores both when and why states adopt these different policies and the substantive implications of these policies for migrants and refugees' well-being and access to services. She identifies salient factors—such as domestic civil society, the national origin of migrants and refugees and their duration in-country, security concerns, the prospect of diplomatic and material benefits from international actors, and regime type—in determining whether a state chooses to adopt a liberal, repressive, or indifferent strategy.

The depth of insight offered by Norman's extensive fieldwork and rich case knowledge is a model for cross-national comparative work. Norman's methodology follows what she describes as an "ethnographic sensibility." Hundreds of interviews with migrants, refugees, government actors, and international stakeholders as well as primary and secondary source research form the backbone of her empirical design. [End Page 341] These are accompanied by aesthetic details, sense of place, and informal interactions. Together they enable her to extend her analysis in the presentation of her findings beyond the interviews to provide insight into the broader political and social contexts in which her interviewees are embedded. This approach prevented her analysis from reading as surface-level despite the ambitious cross-national scope.

The breadth of the cases, however, is a limitation. Egypt, Morocco, and Turkey vary substantially in terms of the profiles of migrants and refugees in-country, the strength of domestic civil society, regime type, and numerous other factors. This variation enables Norman to explore commonalities in policy-making toward migrants and refugees in diverse contexts, extending the generalizability of her theory. Yet it also inhibits a systematic understanding of the importance of each factor identified, and in which cases one factor might prevail over another in determining policy selection. For example, Norman...


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pp. 341-342
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