Skip to main content

Transnational Figurations of Displacement: Connectivity and Mobility as Solutions to Protracted Refugee Situations

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TRAFIG (Transnational Figurations of Displacement: Connectivity and Mobility as Solutions to Protracted Refugee Situations)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2019-12-31

Displacement is normally regarded as a temporary phenomenon. Yet, around 16 million people—three quarter of more than 20 million refugees worldwide—have been in exile for long periods of time without prospects of return, resettlement or local integration. The number of internally displaced persons who cannot return is unknown. Both groups find themselves in protracted displacement.

Forced migration is an extremely complex process; internal displacement, cross-border movements, return, labor migration and other forms of mobility are closely interwoven. If people decide to flee, this is only rarely the decision of a single individual but instead invariably interwoven in the context of family relationships or other personal networks. However, borders are often crossed and social relations become transnational.

The aim of the project is to not only obtain new research findings on protracted displacement and the transnational life of those seeking protection, but also to advise those in politics and in practice—based on this research—on how political frameworks and concrete support and assistance programs can be improved by incorporating, for example, the transnational networks of refugees.

The overall objective of the project is to develop solutions for protracted displacement situations (PDS) that are better tailored to the needs and capacities of persons affected by displacement. Current policies struggle to find solutions to forced displacement and, in particular, to offer long-term solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are stuck in ‘limbo’, i.e. living in situations of vulnerability, legal insecurity and aid dependency, due to continuous cycles of displacement and a lack of durable options. The project will therefore answer the questions whether and how protracted displacement relates to displaced persons’ social connections and movements inside countries and across borders and, in turn, how connectivity and mobility can contribute to enhancing the self-reliance and to strengthening the resilience of displaced people.
During the first months of the project, the conceptual and methodological foundations of the projects were laid. Conceptually, the project developed a new theoretical foundation “transnational figurations of displacement” by bringing together distinct fields of research: protracted displacement, the figurational approach, and discussions on mobility and transnationalism/translocality. This specific lens offers a new approach to protracted displacement. It deviates from previous understandings of displacement situations as place-based and relatively static.

Moreover, a common methodology for field work across all regions was developed. This includes the development of ethical guidelines which is crucial in dealing with vulnerable research participants. The Data Management Plan provides guidelines in the organization of the data and the compliance with the GDPR. The methods applied in the field, combining both qualitative and quantitative data, are described in the Methods Handbook. The research is supported by technical means such as a TRAFIG cloud and the KoBo Toolbox for data collection and secure data transfer.

Based on this, the different country teams started to prepare for fieldwork in the second half of the year 2019. All teams conducted trainings for the researchers involved so that a common understanding of the concept, themes, and research methods could be developed. Fieldwork started in East Africa (DR Congo), the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia), the Middle East (Jordan), South Asia (Pakistan) and Southern Europe (Italy, Greece).

Seven publications were produced within the first project year. Working Paper 1 “Transnational figurations of displacement. Conceptualising protracted displacement and translocal connectivity through a process-oriented perspective” lays out the project’s central theoretical framework. The concept was made accessible to policy makers in a workshop in Brussels. TRAFIG produced the Practice Note 1 for actors in the field of humanitarian aid, development and protection explaining our concept.

Working Paper 2 “Learning from the past. Protracted displacement in the post-World War II period” examines the history of the search for solutions to protracted displacement. The paper analyses past policy responses that explicitly or implicitly address situations of extended exile. Practice Note 2 summarizes the main findings for a wider audience.

Working Paper 3 “Governing protracted displacement. An analysis across global, regional and domestic contexts” provides in-depth information on governance regimes of refugee protection and other relevant legislative frameworks on different levels and thus serves as a basis to understand in which structures refugees and internally displaced people have to navigate across TRAFIG’s study regions. Policy Brief 1 and Practice Note 3 make the results of the comprehensive Working Paper accessible for policy makers, practitioners and the wider public. An interactive visualisation on TRAFIG’s website shows these governance frameworks and solutions for forcibly displaced people.
TRAFIG has developed in its first year an innovative theoretical and methodological approach to look at protracted displacement. It deviates from previous understandings of displacement situations as place-based and relatively static, but looks at it as being rather multi-sited and dynamic. This understanding is further grounded in a comprehensive analysis of past and current policies and governance systems.
On the basis of this innovative concept, comprehensive policy analyses and empirical research in Africa, Asia and Europe have been and will be further undertaken. TRAFIG contributes to increasing existing knowledge on displacement and the transnational dimensions of refugees’ lives. By emphasizing connectivity and mobility, the project wants to expand the range of policy options available to policymakers and practitioners and contribute to enhancing the resilience of displaced people and host communities alike.

The TRAFIG project aims at supporting policymakers and practitioners to help the most vulnerable groups to move out of protracted displacement and to enhance their self-reliance and resilience. TRAFIG directs the attention to refugees’ social networks and multiple movements and how these connections and mobilities can contribute to dissolving protracted situations and prevent new ones from forming.

TRAFIG further analyses the dynamic interactions between the displaced and host communities. By involving members of host communities, too, we will be able to understand patterns of integration and interactions between the displaced and host communities. Finally, internally displaced people (IDPs) are included in the research as part of the challenge of forced displacement. This has the innovative capacity to change the way policy-makers and practitioners think about IDPs. This approach can contribute to looking at protracted displacement in a more holistic way and thereby filling research and policy gaps with regards to most vulnerable groups.