When do the Dispossessed Protest? Informal Leadership and Mobilization in Syrian Refugee Camps

When Do the Dispossessed Protest? Informal Leadership and Mobilization in Syrian Refugee Camps

by Killian ClarkePrinceton University 

Refugees are often considered to be among the world’s most powerless groups; they face significant structural barriers to political mobilization, often including extreme poverty and exposure to repression. Yet despite these odds refugee groups do occasionally mobilize to demand better services and greater rights. In this paper I examine varying levels of mobilization among Syrian refugees living in camps and informal settlements in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan in order to explain how marginalized and dispossessed groups manage to develop autonomous political strength. I explain the surprisingly high levels of mobilization in Jordan’s Za’atari Camp compared to the relative quiescence of refugees in Turkish camps and Lebanese informal settlements as the product of a set of strong informal leadership networks. These networks emerged due to two unique facets of the refugee management regime in Jordan: the concentration of refugees in the camp, and a fragmented governance system. In Turkey and Lebanon, where these two conditions were absent, refugees did not develop the strong leadership networks necessary to support mobilization. I develop this argument through structured comparison of three cases and within-case process tracing, using primary source documents from humanitarian agencies, contentious event data, and 87 original interviews conducted in the summer of 2015.

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Perspectives on Politics, Volume 16Issue 3, September 2018, pp. 617-633

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