Lack of belonging: Refugees continued sense between homeland and host land

A group of people board a bus on the President’s Bridge (Jisr al-Rais) in Damascus - October 26, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)

A group of people board a bus on the President’s Bridge (Jisr al-Rais) in Damascus - October 26, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)


Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud

It was stated in the book of Nostalgia For The Homelands by Abu Othman Amr Bin Bahr al-Jahiz that “A sign of maturity is that the soul is longing for its birth, and longing for its birthplace,” with reference to the longing of kings and prophets for the homes of their fathers, so some of them recommended that he be buried where he was born, or where his father was born, not where he resides, or where his kingdom and authority were established.

The words of al-Jahiz, who came in the ninth century AD, may not seem like a decisive criterion in this regard when considering the place of birth and the reasons that led to leaving the land and the homeland, as the situation, feelings, and thoughts of those who leave for trade differ from those of someone fleeing from a killing machine and bombing, and searching for a safe life in the same time.

Over the course of 13 years, during which the Syrian regime’s use of barrels and tanks with the popular movement demanding political change in Syria produced millions of refugees distributed throughout the countries of the world, the Syrians witnessed a life different from the one they lived in their country, at a relatively varying level, depending on the country they moved to.

This situation cannot be measured only at the time of asylum itself, as it applies to the conditions of the two countries, the source and recipient of the refugee, even before the revolution in Syria.

Variation in the level of services, eliminating the discussion of details of daily needs, and reducing the space for fear in a way that does not eliminate legal pressures or favor a state of stability, in addition to the integration of categories of refugees into the host communities or countries, and reaching a state of stability or legal stability created by the legitimacy of presence in the country with identification and official documents.

These are all essential details that cannot be omitted when talking about the view of Syrians from abroad towards their country and the state of belonging after a long separation in which the state of decline and deterioration did not stop at various levels in Syria.

Ammar, 41, lives in Istanbul after leaving his city of al-Hasakah, but this was not his first refugee experience as he had tried it more than once.

He took refuge in Erbil in 2017, and there, he did not find favorable living conditions that would enable him to continue, which prompted him to return to Syria at that time before leaving for Turkey for purely economic reasons and to escape hunger, as he said.

Ammar believes that the unfavorable conditions in the country of asylum push the refugee further away from his country and preoccupy him with searching for other alternatives, so he seeks to leave the country of asylum for another country of asylum, such as moving from Turkey to Germany or the Netherlands, without even thinking about returning to Syria, as people in Syria struggle to make a living.

“Legal and daily pressures create many deviations in the refugee, including a loss of faith in humanity, at the level of relatives and countrymen,” he added.

Reality speaks

The Syrian regime is trying to present a bright picture of life under its control by exploiting YouTubers and promoting a life that the citizen hears about but does not touch, in addition to holding festivals and parties, developing organizational plans for construction and urbanization, and calling for the return of refugees.

But reality says the opposite. The call for the return of refugees was followed by official talk about the obstacles to return, and the authority’s admission that return requires electricity, water, schools, medicine, and other basics of life that are not available.

The deteriorating economic situation in Syria has also turned some refugees into a “lifeline” for their families residing in Syria, with the decline in the value of the local currency against the US dollar to record levels, in addition to the rise in the prices of various goods, services, and needs.

This is accompanied by the absence of anything that can cover this increase in terms of monthly wages and pensions, specifically government pensions, the minimum of which is about 186,000 Syrian pounds.

The minimum salary, after the increase approved by the regime’s president, Bashar al-Assad, in mid-August, is equivalent to about $13 compared to the dollar exchange rate, according to the S-P Today website that covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar.

According to a study issued by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in September 2019, the dispersion that Syrians experienced during the years of the revolution led to improved living conditions for many families.

Akjemal Magtymova, the representative of the World Health Organization in Syria, said in June that about 90% of Syrians have been living below the poverty line since 2020, while reports from UN and international organizations constantly warn of the severity of the humanitarian situation in Syria and the depth of the needs of residents through Syria for humanitarian aid.

During his briefing before the Security Council on June 29, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, indicated that 90% of Syrians are below the poverty line, with expectations that this number is currently higher.

The scene is blurry

Sociologist Hossam al-Saad separated the level of service reality from any citizen’s sense of belonging. As for Syrians outside their country, who have observed the citizen’s relationship with his state, it turns out that the issue is not related to services.

There is a social contract between the state and its institutions and between the individuals themselves, and therefore, there are clear tasks, duties, and rights for individuals, he added.

Al-Saad told Enab Baladi that the Syrian refugee comes from a country and culture in which the social contract is absent, and there is the influence of authority and institutions that do not operate institutionally, which creates a state of confusion in belonging, and this is linked to the legitimacy of authority or not, and the individual’s belief that he has a partnership role in this social contract.

For more than 50 years in Syria, the country was in the hands of a party that mixed homeland and power. The name Syria became attached to the name of a family, corruption, and security authority, with the absence of social justice and equal opportunities. Also, 13 years, although it is a long time, is not enough to reveal the relationship with the homeland. In addition, belonging and identity must go beyond this aspect in order to seek a new social contract, according to the sociologist.

Syria is considered a late case and an option that may not be on the table for Syrians abroad, except perhaps those in neighboring Arab countries who suffer from conditions similar to the situation in Syria.

Also, the current circumstances in Syria, the presence of four authorities on the ground, and the absence of a solution help to enhance the uncertainty for Syrians abroad, as they cannot be certain about what Syria means to them, which explains the unwillingness of many Syrians to return to areas under regime control, considering that return partly contributes to reproducing the regime without a model different from what they have experienced for decades.

“A state of loss for the Syrians. There are no social, cultural, or political forces with the Syrians abroad. They are left alone, as there is no institution or organization working to enhance the refugee’s awareness or belonging, even within a narrow framework, and this also enhances the state of uncertainty,” said researcher al-Saad.

Identity disorder

Social researcher Aisha Abdul-Malik explained to Enab Baladi that there is a gap between parents and youth because the parents grew up with a certain style of social, religious, and national education, and after they left with their young children, the child mixed with a different environment, which pushes the family, within the small affiliation that is the family, to raise its children as the father and mother grew up.

There is a state of clash between young people with themselves, as they are forced to take from the environment in a way that conflicts with the family’s convictions. There is another disorder that can afflict a person as a result of these situations, which is a disorder of belonging or identity.

This occurs when the expatriate faces a new society with ideas related to his integration into the country and his understanding of the people, but the host people reject him, including holders of nationalities who suffer from the rejection of the new society on the one hand, in addition to the decline in belonging to the original community on the other hand, he is neither truly a son of the place, nor truly a son of the primary incubator.

It can be pointed out here that the Syrian who is proficient in the language of the host country speaks in this language, distancing himself from his language as much as he can in order to avoid touching the fragility of his belonging or classifying him within a group or people with which he does not fully fit.

Speaking about belonging and integration, Abdul-Malik believes that integration is a way of dealing with things and can be separated later, for example, when leaving the place, but belonging is indivisible, and it is an issue that young people in their early 30s, who witnessed the beginning of the emergence of technology in Syria before their expatriation, suffer from. This explains the tendency of older people in this age group to return home, especially those who live in a country that looks nothing like Syria.

As for the return of refugees, regardless of the political, economic, security, and service situation, the regime will not accept the return of generations who lived in an environment and grew up in a way different from the way their fathers lived inside Syria, because they are considered a tiring and unsafe group, in addition to the fact that these same people do not see Syria as a place in which to complete their lives.



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